Episode 66: Full Transcript

[00:00:00.05] TAYLOR RHODES: Working on a ranch, growing up as a kid, and having a family that was agricultural, there's always work to be done. And it's hard work. And it's not like, hey, it just goes away. You do it once. You learn how to work hard, and you learn how to do the job the right way.

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[00:00:15.96] SPEAKER: This is the Insurance Technology Podcast, where we bring interesting people from across the insurance ecosystem to discuss and debate technology's impact on the industry. Join us each episode for insights and best practices from industry stewards and tomorrow's innovators. Now, here's your host, Reid Holzworth.

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[00:00:37.57] REID HOLZWORTH: Welcome to the Insurance Technology Podcast. I'm your host, Reid Holzworth. In this episode, I'm going to be interviewing Taylor Rhodes. This is a really, really, really good one. And look, I'm not just kissing this guy's ass because technically he's my boss. You will see he is a true leader through and through. You'll understand after listening to this episode and the next episode why Applied is crushing it.

[00:01:05.65] Now, we have prepped for this-- any of this. There's a lot of back and forth because him and I have been working together for quite some time. I'll also point out that he's the first that really didn't grow up in the industry.

[00:01:18.10] And I wanted to-- I've been wanting to interview Taylor for a while now, and now the timing is right-- everything that's come together over the last few years. In this one, in this episode, we're going to get into Taylor's background-- him as a leader, his time in the Marines. You really get to know him as a person. Stay tuned. You're going to really love it.

[00:01:40.56] Joining me today live in the downtown Fulton Market is Taylor Rhodes, CEO of Applied. Taylor, welcome.

[00:01:49.61] TAYLOR RHODES: Thank you, Reid. Thanks for braving the polar vortex to come to our office in Chicago today to do this.

[00:01:54.38] REID HOLZWORTH: Dude. This is the first live one and the coldest day ever.

[00:01:57.76] [LAUGHTER]

[00:01:59.87] TAYLOR RHODES: I grew up in Arizona. How do you think I feel?

[00:02:01.79] REID HOLZWORTH: It's brutal, brutal. Like I was telling you, I actually did it, though. I walked from Union Station to here. I'm like, I'm going to do it. I'm going to see. And it's funny, I started doing it, I started walking, and I was literally freezing. My hands went numb. Feet went numb.

[00:02:15.62] TAYLOR RHODES: So does that decision make you stupid or hard?

[00:02:19.07] REID HOLZWORTH: You know, I want to say hard. I mean, I am talking to my boss right now. So I'm going to say--

[00:02:24.42] [LAUGHTER]

[00:02:26.22] But five minutes into it, I thought it was a pretty dumb decision.

[00:02:29.35] [LAUGHTER]

[00:02:30.66] Especially when I was like one of four people walking today.

[00:02:33.26] TAYLOR RHODES: I respect you for that.

[00:02:34.31] [LAUGHTER]

[00:02:35.61] REID HOLZWORTH: But I was-- I don't know if you know. Do you know Wim Hof? Do you know Wim Hof is?

[00:02:39.23] TAYLOR RHODES: No.

[00:02:39.56] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, the ice man. He does all this like breathwork stuff. He's climbed Everest eight times in his shorts. It's like some crazy stuff like that. He jumps in the ice and whatnot. And he does all this stuff when-- he literally strips down to a Speedo, will drill a hole in the Arctic, and then jump in the water. And he has these goggles so his eyeballs don't freeze, literally. And so anyways, he does all this stuff about you just have to breathe through it. You just breathe through it. So I was breathing through it this morning. Wim Hof was on my mind.

[00:03:10.30] TAYLOR RHODES: I think Wim Hof's mother didn't love him enough, and he's trying to prove something that he had to prove.

[00:03:15.42] REID HOLZWORTH: That guy Wim Hof is badass. You should-- dude, google Iceman. Seriously.

[00:03:21.90] TAYLOR RHODES: I will never do it, but I will Google it. Yeah.

[00:03:23.94] REID HOLZWORTH: [LAUGHS] But every time-- no joke. I keep his book on my phone. It's always on my phone. When I've done a bunch of these big hikes and I'm out there like dying because it's so cold, I read his stuff. I'm like, if this guy can do it, I think I can kind of do it. So anyways. [LAUGHS]

[00:03:39.06] TAYLOR RHODES: I love it, Reid. That's the motivation.

[00:03:41.63] REID HOLZWORTH: Anyways. Well, welcome.

[00:03:43.55] TAYLOR RHODES: Thank you. Glad to be here with you.

[00:03:45.18] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, man. It's a long time coming. So thank you for being here, and I'm excited to do this. So before we get into Applied, everything you've done, the history of Taylor Rhodes and all of your background, let's let the listeners and watchers get to know Taylor.

[00:04:00.71] TAYLOR RHODES: Sure.

[00:04:01.55] REID HOLZWORTH: What was your childhood like?

[00:04:03.26] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. I grew up in Arizona. So it was kind of an interesting family. My mom's side of the family were cattle ranchers, and my dad's side of the family were lawyers and politicians. You put those together.

[00:04:15.02] And I grew up in the Phoenix area for the school year. And in the summers, I'd go up to Prescott, Arizona area and work on a cattle ranch. It was a no joke, old-school cattle ranch. Lots of cattle, lots of horses, lots of other animals, a big garden. And it sounds romantic sitting here thinking, oh, the American West. You go to a ranch to work in the summer.

[00:04:34.52] Well, when you're a kid, and you get sent to a ranch to work in the summer, it's kind of like going to a penal farm. All your friends are in Phoenix partying in the summer and doing whatever kids do. And I'm up there waking up at 5:00 in the morning feeding the chickens and going and doing that kind of stuff.

[00:04:47.92] REID HOLZWORTH: So were the other people on the ranch just heckling you all the time and messing with you?

[00:04:52.05] TAYLOR RHODES: Oh, sure.

[00:04:52.35] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, totally. You were just cleaning up.

[00:04:53.67] TAYLOR RHODES: And they were heckling me in the sort of slang Spanish. So the one thing I learned as a young kid was how to speak all the bad words in Spanish.

[00:05:03.63] REID HOLZWORTH: I didn't know this.

[00:05:04.11] TAYLOR RHODES: I could cuss in Spanish with the best of them by the time I was probably 10. So that was a benefit of working on the ranch.

[00:05:10.44] REID HOLZWORTH: [LAUGHS] That's awesome.

[00:05:11.85] TAYLOR RHODES: All my family's from Arizona. And that was-- actually, I make fun of it today. But I really think working on a ranch growing up as a kid and having a family that was agricultural-- there's always work to be done, and it's hard work. And it's not like, hey, it just goes away. You do it once. Those weeds will regrow themselves.

[00:05:29.58] That field needs to be irrigated again. That fence needs to be reposted and stuff. So there was just always something to do that was important. And that's hard work. So early on in your life you learn how to work hard, and you learn how to do the job the right way.

[00:05:45.00] REID HOLZWORTH: That's awesome. That's awesome. So tell us more. What did you want to be when you grew up, if you will?

[00:05:50.79] TAYLOR RHODES: I wanted to be an insurance technology CEO.

[00:05:52.83] REID HOLZWORTH: [LAUGHS] Yeah, right. I don't believe that one bit. [LAUGHS]

[00:05:56.62] TAYLOR RHODES: It's funny one of my best friends growing up as a kid-- name was Scott. And we used to go out in the desert and play war, as boys do. We'd have rock fights and play war. And both of us, as we were growing up, said we wanted to be Marines. And we both did. We grew up, and we went in the Marine Corps.

[00:06:12.18] REID HOLZWORTH: No kidding.

[00:06:12.88] TAYLOR RHODES: And so when I was a kid, if you asked me what I wanted to do, I was always like, I'm going to be a Marine. And some of that influence-- my grandfather was a big figure in my life, and he was a D-Day veteran. He landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. And he ran the ranch, and he was a big figure in my life. So I think a lot of that influence came from him.

[00:06:28.39] But it was funny, like, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 years old-- what do you want to be when you grow up? I want to be a marine.

[00:06:33.45] REID HOLZWORTH: Wow. And you did it.

[00:06:34.44] TAYLOR RHODES: Scott and I graduated from college, and we became Marines.

[00:06:36.75] REID HOLZWORTH: That's awesome, man. That's awesome.

[00:06:38.58] TAYLOR RHODES: And that's as far as my young brain got on what I wanted to be I grew up.

[00:06:41.81] REID HOLZWORTH: [LAUGHS]

[00:06:42.53] TAYLOR RHODES: I didn't know I wanted to be in insurance technology. Yeah.

[00:06:44.84] REID HOLZWORTH: [LAUGHS] That's awesome. So talk to us about what was a difficult situation you had to overcome when you were a kid?

[00:06:50.15] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. Well, I mean, a lot of hard work, but that's on the good side. I think the toughest thing for me-- my parents were divorced when I think five or six. And, as a young kid, I remember that when my dad told me that, and while I didn't comprehend it, I knew it was bad. I knew it was going to be a big change. And I remember that very starkly.

[00:07:11.87] And then about two years later, my mom and my dad both remarried to other people. So then we got introduced to a blended family and kind of had to make that adjustment. And that was just weird for young kids. I think divorce is hard. And that just sets your family on a totally different track-- some of it good, some of it bad. That was kind of a tough experience for me.

[00:07:30.98] My dad picked up and moved to Washington, DC. And so this whole thing kind of estranged me from my dad at a young age. That's hard to figure out when you're a young kid. So that was tough.

[00:07:41.46] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Wow. Now, you have siblings?

[00:07:44.49] TAYLOR RHODES: I do. I have three brothers.

[00:07:45.66] REID HOLZWORTH: Three brothers. And where do you fit in that?

[00:07:47.52] TAYLOR RHODES: I'm the second.

[00:07:48.57] REID HOLZWORTH: OK.

[00:07:49.02] TAYLOR RHODES: So for a long time my identity was I was the middle kid because there was my older brother, who's two years older than me, my younger brother, who is four years younger than me. And then all of a sudden, my dad decided he wanted to have another kid. So eight years later comes this other--

[00:08:01.83] REID HOLZWORTH: Whoa.

[00:08:02.67] TAYLOR RHODES: --who's my brother Arthur. I love him to death. But he ruined my clear position as the middle kid. And I always was like with pride was the middle kid because I was the troublemaker. I was the smart aleck. And then along come-- and now I'm like, who am I? I'm the second in four kids. That's not cool, you know?

[00:08:18.45] REID HOLZWORTH: [LAUGHS]

[00:08:19.53] TAYLOR RHODES: But yeah. All brothers, which probably-- my mom used to always go, I'm the only woman in this house. You're going to drive me to the--

[00:08:26.55] REID HOLZWORTH: That's brutal.

[00:08:27.09] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. And I'm like, yes. I believe that now.

[00:08:29.76] [LAUGHTER]

[00:08:31.05] That was tough.

[00:08:31.68] REID HOLZWORTH: That's awesome, man. So what about high school? Who were you in high school, Taylor? Who was Taylor Rhodes in high school?

[00:08:36.66] TAYLOR RHODES: I was the heckler. I was--

[00:08:38.55] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, yeah?

[00:08:38.97] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. I was kind of the smart alecky kid. I was the guy who got in trouble in class. The teacher would always be like, could you just-- there's a time to and a time not to. Just learn when to shut your mouth.

[00:08:51.36] I was a swimmer. I always grew up in Arizona. I was always in the water. I loved the water, and that led me to swimming competitively. So I was a swimmer. And I was just like-- I loved to have a good time. My persona in college was like, you want to go do something social? Let's go.

[00:09:06.81] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, nice.

[00:09:07.29] TAYLOR RHODES: And so that was fun. And I hung out with the people who had the same mindset, which probably led to some bad decisions and things I shouldn't have been doing in high school, but that was me. I was trying to have fun.

[00:09:18.60] REID HOLZWORTH: Music. What was your-- what was music?

[00:09:20.49] TAYLOR RHODES: Oh, man. So I remember so clearly when Guns N' Roses Appetite for Destruction came out.

[00:09:25.50] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, I love that album.

[00:09:26.46] TAYLOR RHODES: That was my favorite album.

[00:09:27.57] REID HOLZWORTH: OK. I love that album. I could sing every song on that album.

[00:09:29.70] TAYLOR RHODES: I wore that thing out.

[00:09:31.20] REID HOLZWORTH: On the tape?

[00:09:32.16] TAYLOR RHODES: On the tape. I wore it out.

[00:09:33.42] REID HOLZWORTH: Wore out that tape.

[00:09:34.23] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. So that was-- I remember that album come out. I also liked Social Distortion a lot. They were like my favorite band, and I wore them out, too. But then when Appetite for Destruction came out, that was like-- that was it.

[00:09:45.87] REID HOLZWORTH: So good. So good. Love it. I don't care what anybody says. Axl Rose is the man.

[00:09:50.08] TAYLOR RHODES: I know. Little bit of a controversial character.

[00:09:52.37] REID HOLZWORTH: [LAUGHS] Yeah.

[00:09:53.46] TAYLOR RHODES: But, hey-- the formative years. If you ask me who I listened to all the time, it was Guns and Roses.

[00:09:58.50] REID HOLZWORTH: That's awesome, man. What was your car in high school? What'd you drive?

[00:10:01.31] TAYLOR RHODES: I had an old beat-up Suburban. It had passed through the brothers. So it was kind of-- it had passed through mom for a long time, and then it had passed through my brother, and then it was mine. So by the time I got it, it was pretty well beaten up. But it was fun, man. That was super fun in high school, just being able to take 12 people cruising around town.

[00:10:20.28] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, totally. Oh, yeah.

[00:10:22.26] TAYLOR RHODES: And there was very little bad that I could do to that car that mattered. And so I beat it up more, and then passed it down to my little brother. So yeah-- beater white Suburban.

[00:10:32.19] REID HOLZWORTH: That's awesome. So then what? So what happened after high school?

[00:10:34.95] TAYLOR RHODES: I went to college. I went to the University of Arizona, which is also mistakenly called the Harvard of Tucson, Arizona. But no, I went-- I grew up in Arizona-- Arizona kid. So I went to the University of Arizona down in Tucson.

[00:10:47.70] And look, I think that I learned some things in college. I actually did go to class. I actually studied. I actually got good grades. But I also had a lot of fun. I think that was a great social-- it was sort of the cutting of the cord, being out on your own for the first time, just having a lot of fun.

[00:11:06.13] REID HOLZWORTH: So what-- I forgot to ask. What was the first job you ever had?

[00:11:10.65] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. It was working on the ranch. I got paid. But my family's rule was from the time that you could actually really get up and do stuff, you were going to have a job. You could choose what job it was. But in the summers, were going to have a job.

[00:11:22.80] During the school year if you were doing a sport, you didn't have to have a job. But if you were in high school, didn't have a sport, you were going to work after school. And in the summer, you were going to work.

[00:11:31.15] And so one of the cool things my granddad did for us when we were little, he worked us a lot. But he also paid us. And so when you're--

[00:11:38.01] REID HOLZWORTH: That's great.

[00:11:38.16] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. He paid me $5 an hour way back then, which was a lot of money.

[00:11:41.36] REID HOLZWORTH: That's good money. Yeah.

[00:11:42.02] TAYLOR RHODES: But there was a lesson in it. It was work hard, and there's rewards. And so the first job where I would get a paycheck-- and he would type us a paycheck with a stub on it where he would withhold taxes. And so he was also teaching us that.

[00:11:54.35] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, no kidding. Wow.

[00:11:55.73] TAYLOR RHODES: Hey, you've got be a citizen. You've got to contribute.

[00:11:56.42] REID HOLZWORTH: That's awesome.

[00:11:57.65] TAYLOR RHODES: And then I had all sorts of different jobs during the summers or during the school years when I wasn't swimming. I worked in a bank. I would sit in the back room of a bank back then when paper checks were still a thing. And there was a huge filing cabinet back there, and you had to file all of these checks.

[00:12:13.58] So people would write a check. They'd go out to dinner. They'd write a check. And then that check would get mailed back to the bank, and then all those checks had to get scanned and then put into a file cabinet. So you want to talk about a mindless job. Like sit in the back room of a bank filing checks. So I never wanted to do that again.

[00:12:30.08] And then I switched to construction. So I started working construction and doing construction jobs and things like that. So I always had a job. And always-- the rule was, you can have the Suburban, but you've got to pay for the gas. Hey, you're going to earn your allowance and all that kind of stuff. So I've always worked.

[00:12:46.32] REID HOLZWORTH: That's awesome, man. All right. So [INAUDIBLE]-- or sorry-- college-- Arizona. And then what?

[00:12:53.64] TAYLOR RHODES: Marine Corps.

[00:12:54.90] REID HOLZWORTH: There it is.

[00:12:55.50] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. I graduated, and then I went to Marine Corps boot camp in Quantico, Virginia. And I became commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. And then I served for five years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. And man, that was a-- I mean, it was just a foundational experience. I'll tell you, you want to grow up fast.

[00:13:17.01] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, yeah. Big time.

[00:13:18.30] TAYLOR RHODES: I didn't really-- I would say I was probably pretty immature as a kid in college, just doing what college kids do. And the Marine Corps is a way to grow up fast, and to learn a lot of things about leadership, about people, about being responsible, about paying attention to detail, about building great teams and putting the team over yourself. So just lots of the things that I learned in the Marine Corps really still stick with me today.

[00:13:43.02] REID HOLZWORTH: If you had to of sum up your Marine Corps experience, and I know this is hard to do, but what would you say you took away from that mostly?

[00:13:51.23] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. It's team over self and the importance of team. At Applied, we talk a lot about the team. And what I learned in the Marine Corps, first of all, you as an individual can do way more than you think you can do. And you can be challenged and pushed into doing things that if you and I were just sitting here-- it's like you reading that snowman or ice man or whatever.

[00:14:14.78] A lot of people put a mental lid on what they think they're capable of. Well, the Marine Corps purposely teaches you to take that lid off and to show you what you can accomplish both physically and mentally. And so that was one thing is we can all rise up and do way more than we think we can-- hard things.

[00:14:29.93] And then the second is you can do way, way more if you've got a great team around you that's all in on the mission together, that all shares the same values. It's all kind of going in the same direction. So those were probably the two most powerful things.

[00:14:44.20] The other thing was building that team doesn't come easily. You've got to work hard to build a great team. And if you're the leader of that team, it's hard. You can't just snap your fingers. A lot of people think in the military, well, it's a hierarchical system. You're an officer. They've got to do what you say.

[00:15:00.69] No. That's kind of like there's a difference between following the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. And to really get people's buy-in, you have to earn their followership. And that's what I learned.

[00:15:10.23] In my first couple of years in the Marines, honestly, I was a terrible lieutenant. I was immature. I thought they just had to do what I said because I said it. That didn't work out so good. So it takes you a little time to realize like, man, these people aren't going to truly follow you just because they have to.

[00:15:27.03] If you want them to really rise up, if you want them to really give you their best, if you really want them to become something better than they were when they got in your unit, you have to earn that followership. They have to believe you care about them. They have to believe that you are there to help them achieve what they want to achieve. You've got to be competent and good because they don't want to follow an idiot.

[00:15:46.59] So you've got to work hard at your craft and become a better leader and a better marine. And it takes a lot of work and intentionality to get people to follow you. And so that was my number one-- first couple of years I thought, well, they got to do what I say. That wasn't working out. And so then I had a couple of hard lessons and really had a couple of good mentors who taught me, hey, man, here's how you become a leader. Here's how you earn followership.

[00:16:09.24] And the one thing-- number one thing I took away from the Marines is everything's a people business. Recognize that a team or a unit or a company is just a bunch of human beings, and they all want to accomplish something. And you got to discover what that is and then help them accomplish that. If you care for them, and you challenge them, and you push them, and you help them rise up, then they'll follow you, and they'll follow you enthusiastically and voluntarily.

[00:16:35.94] REID HOLZWORTH: That's so true. That's how you build a real team, build culture, build warriors out of soldiers.

[00:16:41.05] TAYLOR RHODES: That's it.

[00:16:42.04] REID HOLZWORTH: Build a real team.

[00:16:42.79] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. It's all people business. Everyone laughs. They're like, Marine Corps is a people business? Of course it is. Everything's a people business.

[00:16:48.70] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, totally. Every business is a people business. That's awesome, man. So what was your first real job, Taylor?

[00:16:54.22] TAYLOR RHODES: Oh, you mean the Marines wasn't a real job?

[00:16:55.69] REID HOLZWORTH: Well, outside--

[00:16:56.44] TAYLOR RHODES: I mean, Reid.

[00:16:57.26] REID HOLZWORTH: [LAUGHS] You know what I mean. You know what I mean.

[00:16:58.87] TAYLOR RHODES: My first real job--

[00:16:59.50] REID HOLZWORTH: You know what I mean. [LAUGHS]

[00:17:00.31] TAYLOR RHODES: I got out of the Marine Corps and went to business school and got an MBA. And I went to business school at the University of Chapel Hill. Go Heels. And I accidentally found my way into tech.

[00:17:11.38] And what I mean by that was in the Marines as an infantry guy in the '90s, I didn't even have the internet. I didn't play with email until I was just getting out of the Marines. And so when I went to business school at UNC, it sits on the corner of the Research Triangle Park in Raleigh Durham Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And there were companies back then in the early internet days built around the Red Hat ecosystem. Red Hat was kind of a new thing back then.

[00:17:36.22] And I started just doing little externships with some of these companies that were building applications for the internet. And I caught the tech bug, and just thought this is going to be fascinating. It's going to be a whole different direction that business is going to go in.

[00:17:51.53] I wrote some really bad code early in my life. You don't want me coding. And I realized fast that I was more fit for the business side of technology. But that kind of stuck with me.

[00:18:00.32] So right after business school, I went to work for a giant tech company at the time called EDS, or Electronic Data Systems. It was Ross Perot's company.

[00:18:07.22] REID HOLZWORTH: Hold on real quick. Don't-- I mean, it's a fact that a lot of Marines become CEOs and leaders of organizations, right? And a lot of Marines are recruited for that as leaders of organizations, right? You fell into that, obviously.

[00:18:22.22] TAYLOR RHODES: Well, you know, I think that there's a track record of Marines doing well in business because you bring a lot of the transferable skills. Hey, are you a servant leader? Do you build good teams? Do you are you able to be disciplined and focused on things that matter, doing a great job, accomplishing the mission, being able to organize people around a mission and get the job done well.

[00:18:44.54] So I think a lot of those skills that you learn in the Marine Corps as an officer-- and by the way, the Marine Corps is very entrepreneurial. A lot of people think, oh, it's the military.

[00:18:51.46] But the Marine Corps is the smallest branch. It's under-resourced all the time. It gets handed very hard missions. You never have enough of the right stuff for the right people to do them, and the situation always changes on you. So you have to learn how to, they call it, adapt and overcome-- improvise, adapt, overcome.

[00:19:07.36] So a lot of the skills that you learn in the Marine Corps as an officer actually make you entrepreneurial, adaptable, and flexible in the workplace, which, I think, helps you as well.

[00:19:16.60] REID HOLZWORTH: Totally. Totally. So back to EDS. Sorry.

[00:19:18.82] TAYLOR RHODES: Went to EDS. Started out in their corporate development group and doing M&A and divestiture stuff. And after a couple of years of that, I was like, OK, that's cool. I learned a lot, but I want to get out into the guts of how technology works.

[00:19:29.77] So I left that group and went into our travel and transportation vertical. We were a large provider of airline applications. And so whether that was reservation systems or flight operating systems or what have you. So going out and serving large entities like American Airlines, like US Airways, et cetera-- that's high pressure. When the software or the infrastructure supporting it doesn't work for a major national global airline, you hear about it pretty fast.

[00:19:55.43] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, yeah. Absolutely

[00:19:56.39] TAYLOR RHODES: And it impacts the world. And so learning how to stand and deliver in the context of a private company in a mission-critical industry with complex technology was a great experience. It was super awesome to work with those type of people.

[00:20:12.86] And I learned more than I can probably explain in this podcast from that five or six years at EDS. It was a huge, just steep learning curve. And I kept getting, whether lucky or good, advanced probably well beyond my capabilities at the time.

[00:20:28.25] I had bosses who were willing to take a bet on me. And they'd show up, and say, hey, you know what? You're not ready for this next thing, but we need somebody. We know you, and we like you. And you've shown that you're willing to dive in and take risk, so let's go do this next one.

[00:20:41.96] And I always look back on those times. At first it's a big gulp. You're like, oh, man. I have no idea how to do that. Why would I go do that? But I remember also saying, you know what? Give it a try.

[00:20:52.43] And that willingness to trust a boss who says, I have your back, I'm not going to let you fail, and jump into a situation where you're truly in the deep end, that's the unlock to my career success. Because if I would have been more conservative, I would have missed those opportunities to learn and experience and develop my network and all that kind of fun stuff.

[00:21:13.73] So some of the advice people always ask me is like, well, what would you tell us to do to have a great career with lots of opportunity? I'm like, man, be willing to take the risk. If you're working with people you trust, and they're willing to throw you in because they see something in you, take the risk. You'll get beat up. You'll fail, you'll screw up, but you'll learn way more to the positive than the downside risk. So be willing to take the risk.

[00:21:39.10] REID HOLZWORTH: Adapt and overcome, man.

[00:21:40.18] TAYLOR RHODES: That's it. Get punched in the nose a whole bunch of times. And then-- you and I always talk about, you're like, you can make mistakes, but make original mistakes. Don't keep making the same one. Learn from them, and move on.

[00:21:51.58] REID HOLZWORTH: God knows I've made a lot of mistakes. [LAUGHS] Taylor knows I've made a lot of mistakes.

[00:21:55.45] TAYLOR RHODES: I haven't seen any of these.

[00:21:56.38] [LAUGHTER]

[00:21:59.80] REID HOLZWORTH: All right. So then what, Taylor? Where did you go from there?

[00:22:01.97] TAYLOR RHODES: So I got tired of working at a big, big company. We have, I don't know, 250,000 employees or something like that at the time.

[00:22:07.82] REID HOLZWORTH: That's crazy.

[00:22:08.26] TAYLOR RHODES: And even though you're doing really good work in a big company and you'll learn a ton. Personally, for me, I got frustrated with not really being able to see the full impact of what I was working so hard to do on such a big organization.

[00:22:21.08] So this little company at the time early in cloud computing called Rackspace down in San Antonio for a intern--

[00:22:26.83] REID HOLZWORTH: I've heard of that company before. [LAUGHS]

[00:22:29.62] TAYLOR RHODES: I got introduced to the CEO at the time, one of the founders, and got hired. And he was looking for somebody who came from a large enterprise technology background because Rackspace was early in cloud computing and hosting and running data centers and providing compute storage and networking just as the internet was really taking off. And things were breaking. They were growing super fast, but things were breaking.

[00:22:54.08] And they wanted somebody who had a bit more experience serving larger, more complex customers to come in and help set the foundation under the business and figure out systems and processes and how we hire better. How do we scale our talent as we're growing the business faster?

[00:23:07.70] So I can tell you that experience, going from a giant company to a relatively small company, was also super jarring. There were like times when I was like, man, I made the biggest mistake of my life. These guys don't even have a copier that works or a printer or something like that.

[00:23:21.38] But man, it was gold, and it was such a great experience. We were a really special company. We were early into virtualization and then cloud. We grew from nothing to billions of dollars in revenue fairly quickly. We were competing head-on with AWS, Amazon Web Services, in the early days.

[00:23:39.42] If you go back in time, and you Google search cloud computing from 2008 to probably 2012, there was really only Rackspace in AWS in the mix. Microsoft hadn't figured it out yet. Google hadn't gotten in. And when you compete with a formidable opponent, it also sharpens you. It makes you better at your game. It makes you realize, oh, no. That was a mistake. We should not do that again. Let's go this way and try to differentiate ourselves.

[00:24:04.07] So I had the gift of doing lots of different jobs within Rackspace as we grew from a relatively small company to a bigger company, and ultimately became the CEO of that company and led it through a period of time when we were having to figure out, How do you compete with the giants?

[00:24:19.22] Not only AWS, but then Microsoft. Satya Nadella took over. They got really focused and clear on their cloud strategy. Google came in and said, hey, Google Cloud is going to be an important business.

[00:24:29.06] So you can imagine being the CEO of a relatively small company, billions of dollars in revenue, looking out and going, oh, OK, wait. All I have to do is I've got to figure out how to outcompete Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. No problem, right?

[00:24:44.15] It was tough, but it was awesome. Great company culture, too. We learned so much there about how you build a culture that really engages people, gets them on the mission of overserving the customers in a way nobody else is willing to do, feeling like they believe in the mission and are excited and proud to be there. We were often cited as a real culture carrier company.

[00:25:06.37] One of the cool experiences I had there, which was a real learning as well, is we recruited Fred Reichheld, who was founder of the Net Promoter, or the NPS system, to come be on our board. So I got to work with Fred for years. And here's the father of the NPS system too --

[00:25:20.96] REID HOLZWORTH: That's awesome.

[00:25:21.61] TAYLOR RHODES: --was using Rackspace as kind of a way to learn about how to do this in a technology context. And I learned so much about how to build client-centric cultures, how to really think about what engages your clients and makes them into promoters. And that was an awesome experience as well.

[00:25:35.92] REID HOLZWORTH: Wow, I bet. I bet. Yeah, it sounds-- I mean, I bet that was just a rocket ship to him. You guys even bought a mall, didn't you?

[00:25:41.86] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. [LAUGHS]

[00:25:42.56] REID HOLZWORTH: Like you turn that into your offices. How cool was that?

[00:25:44.62] TAYLOR RHODES: Our founder was Graham Weston at Rackspace, and he was an awesome guy-- a little bit crazy. If Graham was sitting there with me, I'd go, you know you're a little bit crazy. But crazy in a good way. He was an orthogonal thinker. He always saw things from another perspective.

[00:25:57.36] So we were growing so fast we needed to find what our big office solution was going to be. And there was this defunct mall in San Antonio that had gotten shut down, and it was now gritty and grimy and had graffiti all over the outside. And Graham was like, we're going to buy that. We're going to work with the state. We're going to get a smoking deal. And we're going to buy that mall, and we're going to turn it into the most original campus in the country.

[00:26:20.03] And we are all about culture and community and flow and team. And a mall's designed that way. It's designed to have places where you go, but then the flow and the food court and the commonality. And we all thought, Graham, you're freaking nuts, man.

[00:26:33.38] First of all, people are getting stabbed in that part of town. Like, nobody's going to go there. But his vision for this thing-- if you want to look at it, you can go on YouTube and google Rackspace Castle. We call it the castle because it was called Windsor Park Mall, Windsor Castle. If you ever want to check that out, go check it out. It's still out there on YouTube. Just google Rackspace Castle and watch some of the videos.

[00:26:52.73] And his vision was astonishing. And it really was a hallmark of our quirky culture. We used to have customers who-- they were just like, I just want to come and visit. I've heard so much about the castle, I want to come and visit. It was awesome, man. It was great.

[00:27:05.48] REID HOLZWORTH: Wow. I mean, that was-- I bet that was just so fun, so awesome, but super hard. Like you said, that must have been really, really tough.

[00:27:13.20] TAYLOR RHODES: It was tough. But it was-- man, it was a PhD in everything. You go from a venture stage company to-- we go public in 2008-- rocket ship valuation as a public company, then get kind of discombobulated because we had to compete with the big guys, and then take it private because we needed to get out of the public eye and refactor the strategy.

[00:27:35.42] So as a young guy, I got to participate in all those different stages and be kind of close to the decisions. And what are the good decisions? What are the bad decisions? That was a gift. It was a gift. It wasn't easy.

[00:27:45.93] There were some nights, honestly, I remember-- talking about hard things-- I would sit in bed with my wife before we'd fall asleep, and I'd lean back against the headboard, and I would look at her and I'd say-- not being melodramatic at all-- like, hey, I don't know if I'm going to wake up tomorrow. I am super stressed. And I feel like this is-- I'm just in over my head.

[00:28:05.06] And those are just formative times in your life. And you've got to make sure you have good mentors around you. You've got to make sure you have other leaders who you can go to and say, man, I don't know what to do in this situation. What would you do?

[00:28:19.01] And you have to learn the humility of just understanding and accepting you don't know everything, and that's OK. As long as you have good advisors around you and you're seeking help and answers from others, it's OK to be humble.

[00:28:30.98] REID HOLZWORTH: All right, Taylor, let's about leadership. We've talked a lot about leadership. Man, you've put out some really good nuggets throughout this. But what does being a leader mean to you?

[00:28:42.04] TAYLOR RHODES: Whoo. It's sort of changed throughout my career. I think you get wiser. You better get wiser over time. But today, if I had to say, being a leader is-- I think-- when I die, I'd love for people to say, man, he was great at creating jobs and jobs that people wanted to be in, that paid them well, that gave them the chance to advance their own personal agendas, whether that's buying a house, putting a kid through college, or whatever it is. And so in some ways I view my role as helping other people be successful.

[00:29:15.96] And then I think it's my job as a leader to be courageous. The world is not a simple place, and answers aren't always obvious. So you got to do as much diligence as you can. But at some point, you've got to make a decision and go. So having the courage as a leader to plot a course, to make decisions, and to get an organization moving in a particular direction takes courage.

[00:29:36.75] And then I think the last part of what I want to be remembered for is being a true servant leader. I feel like my job here is to-- on the org chart, I'm pure overhead unless I'm enabling other people to do their jobs better.

[00:29:51.09] That can be building an awesome team. That can be making resources available behind the priority decisions that we make. That can be communicating effectively so that people here understand where we're going, why we're going there, have the context of what it means for them, so they can do a good job in that mission. I view my job as a leader here is to be a servant in order to make all the people here more effective.

[00:30:14.11] REID HOLZWORTH: That's awesome, man. At what point in your career-- doesn't even have to be career, just life-- did you realize that you're a leader. Because you refer to yourself as a leader. And I say this-- I've said this on other podcasts. But for me, it took a while. You just kind of-- for me-- I'll just share my story.

[00:30:30.69] I just kind of did my thing. And I was doing my thing. And then one day, it just hit me. Like, oh. And it's not that I didn't know that people depended on and all this stuff. But like, oh, I'm actually truly a leader. You're truly a leader.

[00:30:43.02] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. I always-- people always say, Are they born or are they made? I think it's a little bit of a mix. Growing up as a kid in my teen years, I always had this natural ability to get people to want to be with me.

[00:30:56.19] I think I was born with a good sense of humor. I had some level of, I guess, charisma which attracted people to me. I didn't try to purposefully develop that. So maybe that was just an innate part of me. But I wouldn't have called that leadership at the time.

[00:31:12.84] I also-- because-- I mentioned earlier in the podcast my parents were divorced early. That was a hard thing. I also suffered from insecurity as a kid growing up a little bit because that kind of screws you up a little bit when your Dad leaves you and, you know. And so I think I used that talent when I was a teenager and in my early twenties to mask some of my insecurity.

[00:31:35.21] So it didn't become clear to me that I had real what I would call leadership traits and capabilities until like the third and fourth and fifth year that I was in the Marines. Because I was insecure, I didn't recognize myself as a leader. I wouldn't have given myself that credit.

[00:31:53.59] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, exactly.

[00:31:54.22] TAYLOR RHODES: But then I started getting good at it, and I could step back a little bit. And I had other leaders in my life who were mentors to me who were recognizing that and kind of reinforcing that in me and encouraging me down the path of leadership. And so it was sort of a process for me.

[00:32:08.78] But I would say it was maybe my last couple of years in the Marine Corps where things started clicking. And I was like, you know what? I do have some strong leadership capabilities and skills. And then that started to build my self-confidence around leadership.

[00:32:21.41] And as I went to business school, I really started sprouting my wings. I was with a whole bunch of other smart people. They had been working in private sector jobs and hadn't had the military experience. I was a bit more mature than they were. I'd been out there and had to do some things they had to do, been put in some leadership situations they hadn't been in yet. And that gave me a chance to share some of my early wisdom and my leadership traits there.

[00:32:45.61] And that was kind of the next click in. I was like, you know what? Hey, I'm learning some stuff. I can actually lead and manage people. And that started to build the confidence around leadership. So that's how it evolved for me. So are you born with it, or are you-- do you learn it over time? I'd say yes. Both.

[00:33:01.18] REID HOLZWORTH: Totally. I could see it.

[00:33:02.66] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. But leadership-- I always tell people leadership is a profession. And so I always get young people-- young people-- that makes me sound like a grandpa. I always get young people that want to get career advice, and they're like, hey, what should I think about if I want to become a leader?

[00:33:16.90] And the first thing I always tell them is, first of all, you've got to really-- why do you want to be a leader? Like, hey, man, leading people is hard. Humans are complex beasts. And when you become a leader, you take on all of the wonder of humans and all of the complexity of humans.

[00:33:30.99] So, first of all, why do you want to be a leader? If you're going to lead people, you're going to take on a lot of responsibility for those people. You're going to take on a lot of responsibility for the dynamic they bring into whatever the setting is. So make sure, first of all, you care enough about people to want to be a people leader.

[00:33:46.52] The second thing I tell them is, hey, leadership is a profession. And just like any other profession, you better be willing to work to get better at it. You better be willing to be a student of leadership.

[00:33:55.31] Where are you going to learn from? There are courses you can take. There are leaders you can study. There are mentors you can have. But if you want to be a great leader, it's a profession. And you need to work at it intentionally to get better and better and better over time.

[00:34:09.05] REID HOLZWORTH: Mm-hmm. I love that. It's so true. It's so true. Wow. Well, you've given so much great leadership advice. I've said it a few times now in this podcast. That's really awesome. You're truly a leader. You wear it on your sleeve. You should get a tattoo that says "leader."

[00:34:22.38] [LAUGHTER]

[00:34:23.14] TAYLOR RHODES: I'll get a shirt.

[00:34:24.90] REID HOLZWORTH: I'll get your shirt. [LAUGHS] So good leaders, I believe, should give back, not just to your people within your organization, but outside. So how do you give back, Taylor?

[00:34:34.59] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. Like, we-- I agree with you 100% on that. To much is given, much is expected. And especially in this crazy world, I feel like we have an obligation as leaders to give back.

[00:34:45.48] One way we give back, and it's just one way, is we're-- my wife Stacey and I are really focused on intervening in the lives of vulnerable children. And so that's meant different things to us throughout the years, and we've been involved in multiple causes.

[00:35:00.18] But we're deeply involved in an organization called World Vision, which is a nongovernmental organization that focuses on eradicating poverty in the most vulnerable parts of the world, and that allows us to come alongside. This is an excellent organization that is really, really well-respected for the impacts they make on the ground. That allows us to pour in resources and time and care into somebody who's out there making a difference at scale in the world for the most vulnerable people.

[00:35:29.73] This world does really, really nasty things to children and to women. And we are able to join up in the mission of making lives better for women and children around the world. So that's one way we give back.

[00:35:41.19] Another way is just have the good neighbor mentality. This is not a State Farm commercial. But being a good neighbor means being kind, being caring, being willing to actually spot when people need help, whether that's just a listening ear or something else. And just be a good citizen. Be a good neighbor. The world doesn't have enough good neighbors.

[00:36:01.89] All this crud out there on social media and the cable news channels pits us against each other. And I always said, hey, when I retire, maybe I'm going to start something called Meet Me in the Middle, where we actually start being civil to each other again, being caring about each other, being collegial toward each other.

[00:36:19.56] So the other way my wife Stacey and I just try to make a difference in our little world is just be a good neighbor. Be a good person. Be willing to actually care for others and do something about it.

[00:36:28.87] REID HOLZWORTH: I guess for the listeners out there, start there.

[00:36:30.66] TAYLOR RHODES: Start there. Yeah. Honestly, turn your social media off, and turn your cable news off. Stop looking at everybody around you as your opponent and actually get out there and talk to people who aren't like you and be a good neighbor.

[00:36:41.73] REID HOLZWORTH: I actually don't know this. Are you on Facebook, Instagram, any of that stuff?

[00:36:44.38] TAYLOR RHODES: No.

[00:36:44.67] REID HOLZWORTH: I'm not. I don't know. Yeah. Yeah. Have you-- were you ever?

[00:36:47.01] TAYLOR RHODES: No.

[00:36:47.37] REID HOLZWORTH: No? [LAUGHS]

[00:36:48.15] TAYLOR RHODES: Honestly, growing up in technology, and honestly, at Rackspace, we hosted all those social media channels in the early days. But I've always felt-- like, I'm on LinkedIn because LinkedIn--

[00:36:56.85] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, yeah. Totally. Yeah, yeah.

[00:36:57.75] TAYLOR RHODES: In the workplace. But I've always felt like that's a second or third job.

[00:37:01.11] REID HOLZWORTH: Mm-hmm. So true.

[00:37:02.64] TAYLOR RHODES: And it's such garbage, honestly. And I've seen what it's done to my kids. We were like-- we tried to be the good parents who our kids couldn't have iPhones until they turned 15. And we thought, that's awesome. Well, they got addicted to that stuff as fast as if they'd been using it forever. And I see how it stresses them out.

[00:37:18.24] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, yeah. Totally.

[00:37:19.05] TAYLOR RHODES: It stresses them out, and it makes them feel inadequate. And all the bad stuff-- I am a big-- one of the biggest things I'm concerned about in this world is the impact of the internet in negative ways. It's done so many great things for the world. It is also a disaster for our kids. And that really concerns me. So I am not a patron of any social media sites, except I have to use LinkedIn because Applied says I have to.

[00:37:45.54] REID HOLZWORTH: [LAUGHS] Same.

[00:37:49.32] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah.

[00:37:49.95] REID HOLZWORTH: All right. So what do you do for fun, Taylor?

[00:37:51.76] TAYLOR RHODES: I am a skier. I love being out in the mountains out West. I grew up out West, and that still feels like home to me. I love Chicago. But if you ask me where I'm really happy, it's in the mountains. The old question of beach or mountain? I'm always mountains. Mountains.

[00:38:04.56] I'll go to the beach every now and then. But my happy place is being out in the mountains, skiing in the winter time, doing mountain biking, hiking, fishing things, like that in the summer. And I try to do as much of that as I can. We have a place out in Utah that we go to. That's what I love to do.

[00:38:18.90] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, you tear it up on the mountain bike, too.

[00:38:21.63] TAYLOR RHODES: I used to. Now, I'm a bit more cautious. My 52-year-old Taylor really doesn't want to deal with a skull fracture or another broken collarbone or anything like that. So I found that I used the breaks consistently and significantly more now on the downhills than I used to. Because I'm like envisioning myself-- I'm like, I don't really need that in my life right now.

[00:38:40.11] REID HOLZWORTH: [LAUGHS] But that's badass. People that know what you do, that's pretty badass.

[00:38:44.61] TAYLOR RHODES: It's fun. It's fun.

[00:38:45.43] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah, that's cool.

[00:38:45.87] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. And I-- that's just if you wanted to transform me to a place where I'm just always going to feel energized with a smile on my face, I like to just be out in nature and look at the beautiful mountains and be able to do stuff out there.

[00:38:58.62] REID HOLZWORTH: You are. You're-- I'm not saying this here. You actually a real outdoorsman. Like, a lot of people say that. You are. Yeah, you are.

[00:39:04.36] TAYLOR RHODES: It makes me happy. So are you.

[00:39:05.40] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah. Thank you.

[00:39:05.94] TAYLOR RHODES: When we first met you were like, yeah, man, I'm going to climb these mountains. I'm going to be gone for like 15 days doing it. So like, all right. I like it. Yeah.

[00:39:13.29] REID HOLZWORTH: Hey, we climbed a waterfall together not that long ago.

[00:39:15.72] TAYLOR RHODES: We did. Oh, my gosh. At night. That's for another version-- edition of this podcast.

[00:39:21.06] REID HOLZWORTH: [LAUGHS] Another story for another day. [LAUGHS]

[00:39:23.13] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:39:23.85] REID HOLZWORTH: All right. If you had unlimited time, what would you do?

[00:39:29.72] TAYLOR RHODES: I'd probably get into education, not as a teacher. But I think our public school systems are broken. And I would want to start to invest my time and my resources with like-minded people who wanted to build a really effective alternative to the public school system.

[00:39:44.39] And I'm not talking about high-priced private education, but maybe the charter vehicle-- some other way where you could actually really educate kids on the things they actually really need to learn to be effective in this world in an environment that also focuses on their character and their confidence and building them up over time. That's probably what I would do.

[00:40:05.33] REID HOLZWORTH: That's awesome, man.

[00:40:06.23] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. And we're screwing our kids up in this country. We've got to stop it.

[00:40:09.08] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah. No, that's good. Yeah. I'm totally with you, man. I've got a bunch of little ones, and it's not great.

[00:40:13.79] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:40:15.77] REID HOLZWORTH: What is your drink of choice? Last question.

[00:40:18.20] TAYLOR RHODES: Ooh. I would probably opt for a really good IPA.

[00:40:23.57] REID HOLZWORTH: That's what I would have guessed. Yeah.

[00:40:25.01] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. Yeah. You know, I mean, I love craft beer, and there's so many different varieties out there now. I think a few years ago you sent me-- you shipped me at--

[00:40:33.12] REID HOLZWORTH: I did.

[00:40:33.42] TAYLOR RHODES: --Christmastime a big box of different IPAs. I love that stuff. So anyway, if I had to sit down and probably on the spot, I'd say, let's get into a new IPA I've never tried before, and try a different craft beer from some part of the country.

[00:40:45.42] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah. That's awesome, man. Well, hey, thanks again, Taylor, for doing this.

[00:40:48.03] TAYLOR RHODES: Yeah. Thank you, Reid.

[00:40:48.72] REID HOLZWORTH: This was awesome, man. This is really good.

[00:40:49.77] TAYLOR RHODES: It's a pleasure.

[00:40:50.40] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah. Thank you.

[00:40:52.20] What did I tell you folks-- Taylor Rhodes-- true leader through and through. When you get to know his background, you can start to piece together the types of teams that he builds, types of culture that he brings to organizations that he's involved in.

[00:41:06.29] In the next episode, we're going to dive deep into Applied-- all things Applied. Then we're going to get into Taylor's leadership style-- a lot around leadership. It's really, really, really good stuff. Stay tuned. It's going to be awesome.