Andy Graham is the CEO of Alen Air Purifiers, an Austin-based company which focuses on improving the quality of people’s lives by making the best air purification products. Andy grew up on a farm in South Carolina, where he learned important lessons, as well as the values that still guide him today, such as being caring, curious, and creative. At the same time, the life on the farm taught him the concepts of entrepreneurship, that served as a fundation to his career. After getting his degree in Marketing, he started to work as a distribution channel manager for Motorola, and later served as president and CEO of different companies, until in February 2018, he became the CEO of Alen.
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And now here’s Andy Graham.
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Podcast with Andy Graham. Keeping the Air Clean with Alen Air Purifiers.
people, company, farm, air purification, andy, air, fix, customer, alen, building, run, problem, started, curious, bike, curiosity, thought, engineered, motorcycle, ceo, industry
Mike Malatesta, Andy Graham
Mike Malatesta 00:29
Hey everybody welcome back to the show, I just want to start by saying how grateful I am to everyone who listens to the How’d It Happen podcast and how lucky I feel to be able to share such inspirational stories of success, like the one we’ll be talking about today with Andy Graham, with all of you. It’s been a really cool journey on a journey that I get a lot of energy from so thank you for that. And with that Andy. Welcome to the show. Thank you, Mike, why the bigger. I’m happy to have you I’ve been looking forward to this because I first heard about Andy through Cynthia Cleveland and Cynthia’s episode. Oh maybe came out a month or so ago, we’re, you know, at least from when I’m recording this, and she’s an executive coach and a lot of other things and a YPO er and we got hooked up and we had a great conversation and then, like, people often do once we’re on the show they say hey you should meet this person and you should meet this person and one of the people that she said I should meet is, is with us today, and Graham so stay tuned for some great stuff Andy I start every one of my podcasts with the same simple question. How did happen for you.
deeply, curious, caring in creative person. I just always have been about how things work, why people do what they do. How do you make better decisions I made a battery powered fan for my third grade teacher Mrs Marlo, which is not a typical thing when you’re a third grader. So, I’m just a naturally curious person who loves to observe and to connect the dots perhaps differently than others and that’s just led me to a lot of learning and led me to failure, which is part of learning. And this led me to be in a cool place now where I literally get to build things that help a lot of people, especially right now.
Mike Malatesta 02:51
When you say curious handy. A lot of people say they’re curious or that they’ve got a lot of curiosity I say that all the time I write that all the time. But what does it mean to you and where did it come from, where were you were, you said third grade I don’t know when’s the first time you remember your curiosity being maybe different than other people’s.
I just wanted to take things apart. And when I was a kid I would take things apart and see how they work and put them back together, there’s a big difference of people willing to take things apart and not put them back together but I discovered that I was, I just had a I had a mind and a memory and I, and then an ability to envision the way things were put together the way they work in, and so when it came time to put them back together, that was pretty effortless for me, I fixed a lot of things. I like to ride motorcycles ever since I was nine years old and we lived in the country so you know as your former recreation, because you were in the city. And so what would happen is we had these little Honda mini bikes and they would quit running, and the place you could get them repaired was a long way away. So, out of necessity I figured out how you needed to adjust the exhaust valve on those things, to get them running again and that sort of became the you know the local mechanic of sorts and so, but there was some confidence that came with that I had a guy pull up in my yard one time said I heard you can fix motorcycles and I said, Yeah, that’s true, and he had a larger motorcycle that was popping out of gear. And he said, Can you fix that and I said sure not ever having seen a transmission in a motorcycle before. And so here I am this, you know this, this, I think I was 12 or 13 pulling this large motor out cracking the bottom off of it and figuring out that the shifter boards were worn on one side and not the other and this deducing that while they were bent, and then having to fix that put it all back together and so it’s just led me to a place of risk taking, out of curiosity to, to be able to do things that help people i i don’t know for me, things that are broken or bent are like a splinter in my mind and I try to do something about that and especially when it involves impacting you know the lives of people so the caring part comes into, you know, wanting of wanting to work on things that are going to make a difference in, in a person’s life and a way that the light bulbs go off or they smile or, you know, there’s some relief of pain.
Mike Malatesta 05:32
And was that this this sort of curiosity about fixing things, maybe it also was, I understand you grew up, you grew up on a farm, is that correct. That’s right, so it’s probably a necessity. As well, if you’re going to be successful on a farm,
I think, farming is one of the purest forms of entrepreneurship right you can’t control the weather, you plant things you put in the effort. If you do that with, With, with timing and with the planning, and you hope for a good result but it’s not guaranteed, but it gives you a sharper sense of what’s inside your control and what’s outside of your control and you make peace with that difference. And so that, that you’re right out of necessity, you, you do a lot of things because there’s, there’s not someone around to do that so this you know capacity to figure things out is really important and I think that’s true and entrepreneurship is my professional journey. I found so many parallels between farming and in starting companies or being in the business world, You know it’s it’s striking to me.
Mike Malatesta 06:40
I was very very fortunate in my first company to work with a partner who grew up on a vegetable farm and was. It was just his whole, it’s all he ever wanted to be in. And unfortunately the farm failed at some point and that was not in the cards any longer but he was the most extraordinary person because, not only could he fix things and stuff but he could sort of like what you said with the transmission and the shifting force you could look at something and deduce a cause, and end up in a fix, where other people like me are looking at him like, well duh, I know it doesn’t work, but outside of that I could be looking at the exact same thing and just not have the instinct or whatever it is, along with the talent to, to see what was wrong and understand how to fix it like remove that Splinter, like you said that was a really cool thing you said about the splinter in your mind. And then along along the years, multiple other guys joined us who had similar backgrounds and it was always. Nothing was, yeah, I mean, we always had problems but nothing seemed like a problem for them there was always, it was always a way to work it out where everybody else was standing around kind of waiting for somebody to do something. It’s just, it’s been, it’s been. It was an amazing experience for me to be around people who grew up in that environment.
Yeah I think things have to be mentally visual. You know, you have to be able to picture it in your mind and be able to examine it from a number of dimensions, to understand how to fix something so, you know, or how to how to address a strategic problem even because if you don’t have a fundamental grasp of the theory of operation or you can picture it in your mind and see the associations from things and sort of just picture it in motion and see what’s happening, it’s hard to do diagnosis, it’s hard to make changes random guessing so I fix of pretty my neighborhood I fix lawnmowers and things just as a way to meet neighbors and so it’s always interesting to see how guys joke particularly guys show up and they’ve tried everything in the world, you know, from a linear point of view. Let’s try this. Try this. Try this. But if you don’t understand the fundamental theory of operation of something you’re you’re in a difficult spot to, to, to fix it or to develop a strategy around it, you know, there’s just, it’s, but on the other hand, you know I build bikes in my, my shop. We’re on bike number 14 And I do that with a group of guys kind of like, Huck Finn meets or Tom Sawyer meets Motorhead or something where everybody has something to do. And it’s really a process of everybody has a role to play, and whether you’re repairing a thing or building a team or whatever, I think you just leaders particularly have to be able to picture things in their, in their mind, and to, you know, just have that vision just further ahead enough to be able to take the risk out of things for other people. Yeah, so
Mike Malatesta 10:12
you can imagine and you can articulate what it needs to look at but you look like, maybe, but you, you may as leader, not be able to on your own get it to look like that.
Right, yeah. Exactly, exactly,
Mike Malatesta 10:25
right in your neighborhood is that is the word on you being like the guy to go to to repair stuff is that just gotten out on its own or is what, just curious how it makes its way around, it’s like one person tells the other or do you have a little sign like if you’re a neighbor come see me if you’ve got something broken.
No, this, this is a, we’re in a pocket of homes where they have a pretty active Facebook group, so you just put it on the Facebook group that you do that word gets around that guess that way back before this podcast, one of my neighbors have texted me if you look at my chainsaw yet, like well this weekend, I’ll look at it.
Mike Malatesta 11:03
Okay. Okay cool, and what the you mentioned bikes that you’re building, what kind of bikes are you building.
We’ve done everything from a. Our first bike in this shop was 75 Norton Commando 850 Commando. It hadn’t run for 38 years it was hammy down from an estate sale, And it came across. I came across it in. We just got a group of guys together and in stripped it down, and built a backup, got it into a motorcycle show and so we work on Nordens we were going to Cadiz we worked on, on this of course, you know, it’s a we even did a 50 hook made sold by Sears actually it was a two stroke twin, a twin 252 stroke, again for a neighbor that thing hadn’t run in a long time and, and it’s always amazed me how you can take a group of guys who were just, you know, anybody and and these things just have always amazed me how will it turn out.
Mike Malatesta 12:08
So just, this is pure coincidence but I figured I’m gonna bring it up so you’re in Austin. I was in Dallas. Over the weekend, and I went to the bobby house. Moto Museum. Have you ever been there
in Dallas, I don’t think so. No. Okay.
Mike Malatesta 12:30
Well, if you get an opportunity to h a s Museum, and that guy’s has the. He has a phenomenal motorcycle collection this museum. I know I’m not, I’m not a huge motorcycle enthusiast. But when I went through that museum Andy, the, the art that went into making and restoring these bikes. He’s got everything from the late 1800s all the way up to these, you know, 2020, custom things that you probably would never take on the road or anything, hundreds of them, it’s just an amazing place that’s worth for someone like you, it sounds like it’s worth checking out.
Oh yeah, I definitely I will I haven’t heard of it but, you know, I would say that as much as I’m into that. It’s actually more about the fellowship, it’s the, you get to develop as you’re doing this sort of thing like in one of my, you know, he’s he’s in his mid 60s Right, and he retired and he was, he was a reaming out a Norden oil like bronze bushing and I made a tool for him to do it, and he looked up at me with almost tears in his eyes and he said you know my dad never showed me how to do stuff. You know, so it’s just, it’s this idea of being with other people doing things sharing what you know. You know, I just, I just love that so it’s, to me it is far less about the bike it’s much more about the fellowship really okay. All right,
Mike Malatesta 14:03
got it in the farming what happened to the farming I know you went away to college, but was was farming something you consider your parents still farm. What,
no. First off, it was my, my, I was, my parents were separated and so my mom and I and my younger brother and her and the older step siblings kind of ran the farm so I wanted to stay because I like, I liked the farming but my mom’s is my mom’s background was one of scarcity because she was one of 11 kids so she just was bound and determined that I was not going to stay on the farm I was going to go to college and and then pursue a professional career and have opportunity to she didn’t have. And, you know if you ever met my mom but what I say about her is true. She’s the best man I ever met. She just did not. There’s no such word as Can’t you, you know we are, we’re, you know, not going to stop she just was the most persistent person I’ve ever met. And in has the war stories to back it up right so she just said, Hey, you’re gonna get out there and and pursue something beyond farming. And of course I did. I got a marketing degree in. In, the University of South Carolina and, you know, got a job making another kind of living selling, you know, selling semiconductors. In, right out of college and sort of from there, you know, It all kind of started from there but so I wanted to, but she, she, in fact she I skipped the 11th grade in high school, just because she said you can do it. So I was in college, both time I was 16.
Mike Malatesta 15:53
Okay, so for her for from her perspective it was just out of the question that is not going to be your life. Yeah, okay. And did she continue or is she still is she still with us as she had she continued to farm or what, what became of her life.
No she didn’t. I mean, It’s a long story but my, my oldest brother was a prominent attorney in our small town, and he was bipolar, and this was back in an era era where mental illness was not very well understood so he made a number of unfortunate financial decisions. And so, we lost the farm and in my mom ended up moving, you know, down to the coast, you know, and, and by that time I was often college anyway so she’s still with us, she’s 96 now. And, But, but now we, we, we left the farm, under unfortunate circumstances which, again, right life throws you these things and setbacks and failures and things like that but she never stopped. She went on to manage. You know the kitchen and I local school district or something like that and just took it over. In, you know, took it out of the red and got it into the black so she just, she was to, like I said, the best man I’ve ever met.
Mike Malatesta 17:22
And your brother. How is he doing.
Oh, he’s back in North Carolina, he’s in North Carolina, actually, he’s got a job with doing project management or something like that, you know, our, our nuclear family kind of split and went their different ways, just because of the nature of the things that happened there.
So, you know we’re where I left and went to Arizona, or went to Atlanta, then Orlando Florida then to Arizona and individually to Austin, Texas. So, all of them are back east and I’m the one that, you know, You know set off out west and in, you know, chose a different career path.
Mike Malatesta 18:08
Okay, all right, I appreciate you taking us through that just helps me get an understanding for who you are and where you’ve come from so thank you for that. So you get the, you get this first position out of college selling semiconductors and what industry were you selling into.
I work for. I was in the electronics industry this is back in the early days of the microprocessor, and the single board computer so I was selling single board computers and microprocessors to them, companies that were essentially applying AI technology to new things. So, back in those there I’m an old guy so back in those areas and when I was Atlanta it was selling to linear which made things dictate machines or if you’re automating factories right you’re putting electronics in the factories that make plastic bottles and, and things like that because Atlanta was is the home of Coca Cola, right, for sure. So think of it is, is putting small, you know, selling small computers into a number of different applications where the consumer would hardly ever see it but they were embedded, embedded computing for another way to say, okay,
Mike Malatesta 19:20
so would that be like selling to, like Rockwell Automation for example or the company. Okay.
Yeah, it would be selling to Rockwell or computer companies like gold Modicon was a computer company fault tolerant computer company in Florida, you’d be selling to
make waves I’m going way back there, would say. We had one of my customers was somebody who made smart digital signs, back in those days right so you needed a microprocessor you needed a, you know controls for that right. And so, it was almost all custom work. So you’d buy the parts and build the software and build a custom incident right of how that would work.
Mike Malatesta 20:13
And then you, at least according to the research I’ve done you’ve had, you know a number of President CEO roles I can’t, I can’t tell if. So I’m going to ask if you started any of the organizations that you became president or CEO up but I guess, really. How did you make the transition from the sales position to, you know these higher, you know how’d you move up. Sure.
Well first off, I think sales is a great, a great baseline experience for anybody in leadership, right, because, you know, sales is developing, you know, you know, people relationship skills and and emotional intelligence and to be able to understand other people and to be able to serve them, whether they’re a customer and employee or whatever so I think that was helpful, so I moved from sales into channel management for distribution at Motorola. And so that was a bit of a turnaround situation because there was, there were a lot of problems and so I was kind of the fixer brought in to, you know, turn those kinds of things around internally and so when you fix something, it sort of leads to a level of progression. If you’re wired like me, because you’re not a maintainer, you’re a fixer and a developer, right, there’s got to be some level of growth. So I always ended up going into one of my old bosses says handy where there’s chaos there’s opportunity right so I was never afraid of, of situations that needed attention or that had a bad reputation or otherwise, you know, we’re not attractive for a career. so I never considered my career as moving from one attractive thing to the next I always thought of it as, oh, where the problems are and then be able to add make a contribution, or, or chart a new path that hadn’t been considered. So, what that led me to is a place in sort of Motorola where we were. We were in a custom silicon business and we were competing with much larger companies that had specialized software and they were far ahead of us. And so I just judged that we weren’t going to catch them by trying to beat them at their own game because developing custom software is a very long and expensive thing. So I just went out in the marketplace and found a bunch of third party companies and pieced together the capability that we need needed and what I found in that was is that there wasn’t there was no agreed standards for how design software for chips was really supposed to work together. And so, myself and an engineer in a, in a polyester suit founded a not for profit called the CAD framework initiative, which was essentially a standardization effort at the factory standardization effort back in the late 80s. And so we started that organization, and I became, I was appointed to the CEO of that and so that was my first real CEO job which is an industry leading an industry effort. And when I ran that for 12 years, and then we were successful in setting a standard in an industry which is very hard to do. Not a lot of people exceeded that. And then from there, I decided I wanted to work on things that my wife and kids would understand. Because explaining how you would spend your day helping a industry agree to API Standards that support a design engineer in a building working on a chip that goes into a, so by the time you get to the fourth iteration of that. Yeah, they’re kind of like, well dad works on computers or something, right, and we don’t know. Yeah, right.
Mike Malatesta 23:59
I gotta do I gotta get it down to like five words right that’s
what is the thing, and so and so, I, I was CEO of that for like I said 12 years and then a friend and I co founded a startup, which was early in the mobile phone business to sell applications on mobile phones, And I like that a lot because mobile phones were I could see that I was gonna touch everybody on the planet, and your ability to reach and have influence on that platform was huge. And then on top of that, right, it was something that my wife understood, it’s like oh you’re working with mobile phones. And I like working in an early part of the industry where there were growth opportunities because frankly the semiconductor industry by the, by the by the early 90s, became more and more commoditized you know with the, you know, with, with, with countries, you know, competing with one another, based off of cheap capital. It just wasn’t fun anymore for me. So, working with the things that touch consumer lives which is a lot more interesting at that time.
Mike Malatesta 25:12
And the fixer role I want to sort of dive into that a little bit because that’s for a lot of leaders. That’s a scary role, like setting, you know, getting put into a situation where things are not working well or as good as someone wants them to. It’s, it’s, it takes. Well it’s kind of scary for a lot of people it takes a special skill set, I’m wondering, since you’ve had multiple sounds like multiple opportunities to do that and thrive on the challenge, how did you, what was your approach to coming in to from a, from a people standpoint, let’s take some effort from the technology and the reason I’m asking you is because nobody wants to be associated with something that’s not working right, so you’ve got these people were probably working very hard, and despite their efforts, the results are not. Where, where they need to be or where someone wants them to be how do you how do you come in, what’s your approach when you come into a situation like that.
Think back I’m gonna go back to where we started the conversation about curiosity right yeah, when you walk into a situation, especially if you’ve got mileage and you’ve done a number of things you’re going to have this strong tendency to pattern match very quickly in say Oh, put a label on something and say oh it’s this or it’s that or it’s something else, and you may be right, but what I’ve found is, is that you have to walk in and spend enough time listening and absorbing absorbing and watching long enough, right, with a, a, a fresh curiosity about what’s really going on, because most of what’s happening is really not apparent because in a messed up situation, people will talk about the apparent things, but it’s looking for what’s not obvious that’s really the key. Right. And so the first thing is just be really curious and watch carefully without doing too much early pattern matching because if you come to a conclusion too quickly, you will end up going, you know, down, you know down perhaps the wrong, the wrong path. I think the second one is, be careful about assigning motive to people, you know, really people don’t relate to people what they really do as they relate to their idea of other people. Right, it’s your idea of someone that’s conditioning your behavior, because, you know, I just met you, Mike. I don’t I don’t I know I know something about you but I don’t know you. So I have to continually inform my idea of you. Right, sure, and, and be careful with stewarding that, you know, lest I assign motive to you oh Mike’s doing this thing for this reason or whatever, right, because that leads you to not prejudge people. And then I think the third thing I intend to do is to go, well, is clarity, is it clear what we’re, is it clear why we’re doing what we’re doing. Is it clear what we’re doing. And is it clear how we’re doing what we’re doing. And so if there’s a lack of clarity anywhere along those, then you can have people going in different, you know, in different directions right. So I’m, I read the Bible. So the Bible says, where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained. What that means is if there’s a lack of clarity, you have people going in all kinds of different directions, and, and they may be doing. You know perfectly fine in their mind or whatever but without that level of alignment, and a purpose that you’re murk pushing toward. And then the last thing is there’s got to be. There’s got to be some sort of epic story behind that or narrative that people can believe and be a part of and want to belong to. Right. People don’t want to belong to companies or teams they really want to belong the stories, and those stories have other people who want it if you ever watched the movie Lord of the Rings. Right, yeah, you can say Frodo was on a mission. But really, what he was doing is he realized he was part of a story in a way that if he didn’t play his part, it wasn’t gonna happen, right. And there were other people as part of the stories right so stories are what are what glue, what travel, what knit things and I become a big, big, become a big kind of movie guy anyway, but, you know, picture yourself in a, in a compelling movie what makes it compelling well you can see yourself as being part of that sort.
Mike Malatesta 30:06
So I love that the story. The company’s story for example is one thing but the meaning of the story to me as a person is what really glues me to the organization or to the mission is
that what you’re saying. Exactly because at the core everybody. Everybody wants to be honored. Everybody wants to be seen, and everybody wants to be honored and you can’t do that. People don’t come out and say, I want to be honored this way what they do is they see it as a reflection of the story that they’re a part of. And they can picture themselves as being part of that in their role and in their contribution. Like when I finished when we finished that Norton commando that very first bike, and it started up on that first night and I hadn’t pre started and I didn’t, I didn’t know if it was going to run or not. But on the third kick that things fired up, and you can look around the room, and you could see that they were all thinking, I have a piece of that. I have a piece of that, and you can never take that away from them. Right, it was just as I even now I get chills thinking about that moment where you could say, they had something in a way that can never be taken from, right, and they were, they were part of it, they saw it come to life. They saw the they saw these things come together in that way and, and, and so there was that was a. I wrote a web breaks that night when it came back you know we, we didn’t quite fling the champagne glasses in the fireplace like the French do but we did, you know, we celebrated the honoring of the moment, right. So when you do all those things with, with a, with a situation that’s really messed up, what people end up doing is three, three things you’re doing, you know, you’re creating, you’re unifying and you’re redeeming and those three things is what repairs, a culture and then you get what you celebrate, then celebrations take on more meaning, right, because you were part of something that, that, that, that is a reflection of who you are who you are a tapestry if I can use that as an illustration. Right.
Mike Malatesta 32:17
And how do you, I’m sure you’ve run into people who, regardless of how compelling, the vision or the story is at least in your mind and then it seems to be resonating with other people, how do you deal with that person or those persons who, for whatever reason are unwilling or unable to make me their own meaning out of the story.
well I mean, I think, you know Jim Collins wrote quite a while back, he said you know it’s important to you know have the right seats on the bus and the right people in the right seats and that’s a fairly, fairly stable thing. I think that, I think that you have to have, you have to you have to. Here’s the way I would say, you have to have a way of telling yourself the truth in all progress starts with the truth, truth, Right. And the truth is, if your heart’s not in it, you’re in the wrong place, right. If it’s not really in it, you’re just in the wrong place. And it’s not for everybody. I mean I think that’s the other thing is, it’s okay to not be part of this story and be part of another one it’s
Mike Malatesta 33:36
okay, it’s yeah it doesn’t diminish you as a person that just,
yeah, it’s not personal at all I just, it may not be your thing, it may not be your timing. It may not be your circumstances, sometimes people are wounded in certain way that they, they don’t have the capacity to be part of a of a of a mission that you’re going again back to not assigning motive, it’s not there a bad person or whatever, or labeled in a certain way, it’s like your heart’s got to really be in it from a timing standpoint, from a, from a, you know, aligning with your own personal values and beliefs, right, and from the standpoint of, is this the culture you want to be part of. So for us, one of the most exciting things I’ve done in this latest company is we re engineered the culture of a company that was 15 years old. And yet, we became more of who we were in the beginning because we were able to say it’s about care it’s about collaboration is about imagination it’s about adaptability because you know the one constant is if you’re not growing, you’re, you’re going backwards. Right, right.
Mike Malatesta 34:44
So two more questions and then I want to get more into to to that. The first is the all progress starts with the truth is a Dan Sullivan ism, are you in strategic coach or is that something you’ve picked up somewhere else, I’m just curious.
I’m familiar with his work okay no I’m not a I’m not working with them or necessarily. I would say I read a lot. Yep. and I say no. And I am, I’m the purveyor of of much but originator A few, okay, but that’s,
Mike Malatesta 35:15
that’s fine it’s one of my i i was first introduced to that saying through him, and it’s one of my favorite sayings in the world and I say it all the time, to, to the folks that I work with because if we’re not willing to acknowledge what the truth is we’re going to have a really hard time, you know, figuring out where we’re going, or how to get there. And the truth is The truth is okay it’s not a bad thing. The truth is, this is the light right it’s the guy, so. Okay, so anyway, continue to use that it’s very powerful. I would say. Second thing was about this pattern match, and I’ve been thinking about that ever since you said it because a lot of us and I’ll even put my, I put myself into this group. And you’re probably there too, I mean when you come into something and you see, you think you see something you’ve seen before. So your immediate sort of instinct is to say, Here’s what we do. And that may actually be the quickest way to solve that particular problem, but in the meantime, you’re sending a message to all the other people around you, saying how you, how could you even though you may not ever say this, how could you not see that simple solution or whatever. So did so, the way you walk through that and advise us to really restrain ourselves from. Well you can’t restrain yourself from pattern matching, but you can restrain yourself from acting on the pattern match until you, as you said, another great thing, honored all the people around you. You can get to the, you can get to the solution that you may have known from the beginning, but the but the goal, if I’m hearing you right isn’t. It’s really for them to develop the solution and believe in it. Yeah, give us your, it’s not, it’s not going to be your idea at the end, even though it could have been your idea at the beginning, if it’s their idea at the end,
Mike Malatesta 37:24
you that’s a big win. Am I on track there with you’re
absolutely right. That’s exactly right. It’s just being okay with not being the smartest person in the room being okay with cultivating a new wisdom or cultivating a new state where the as, as, as the collaboration, the level of collaboration rises right, it’s born of anybody’s idea because it gets me back to something I, I mentioned as a substrate, or the foundation of everything I just told you is that’s not possible if the if the culture or the temperature and the culture is not safe. Because when it’s safe. People will admit mistakes when it’s safe, people raise your hand and go, I got an idea and they won’t feel like they’re going to be ridiculed for it right, if it’s safe, you’ll be able to say you know that creative work could be better, I think it could be better this way it’s not taken personally right. And so that level of safety is something I work hard to establish and you just hit on it which is that if you want the best ideas from people. You have to be able to create that level of of environment. Otherwise people will be telling you what they think what they think you want to hear.
Mike Malatesta 38:44
And then there’ll be telling everyone else that they don’t believe in what you’re doing.
Exactly right, so there’s a huge difference between building a compliance culture versus a truly creative culture of compliance culture is trying to figure out how to get the right answer please the boss or to be in the right position or, you know, avoid mistakes, the creative culture is, is in that Ed Catmull at Pixar wrote about this is, you know, how do you get a bunch of creative people to, to be constructively critical of one another for the higher good well they, that’s one of the ways you do it.
Mike Malatesta 39:22
And then your current role as CEO is it, if I should have asked you at the beginning, is it I want to say to Alan Is that right or is it aylen sale account, okay. I just wanted to be sure because not two L’s and I don’t want to mispronounce it so, um, so you, you sort of intimated at your current role that you would you’ve had for three years or a little over three years, that you came into a situation 15 year old company, they’re about and maybe well you tell me what what was, what was it that attracted you to this situation what did. What did you find when you got there, what did you know when you took the opportunity.
Well, in this company and it turned out a couple of really good friends of mine work here, that I, that I knew and I have respect for and so I had a I had some awareness of what the company was doing and what it was about and I knew the founder of the company for at least 10 years I think before coming out coming, getting involved and so they asked me to come help him with, you know, some, some technology challenges because a lot of products now we’re connected and, and, with, you know, connected the internet and you can you can do all kinds of cool things with them. And so when I came in here in February of 18 I thought it was coming here to work on that, and in a, you know, in a part time basis and because I was not really looking to do and other things. But when I got here what I quickly saw Is this a company with great bones and support was very soundly engineered the commitment to making something that actually work was was palpable because we’re in an era of just throw away product right you know things are designed there’s designed obsolescence and, and, like I said I grew up on a farm with John Deere tractor so it just spoke to me that the product was built to last and that it was it was a powerful way so I saw a company with great bones and great customer. Customers customer position. And but I saw a founder and I’ve been there before myself who had who had put himself in a situation of having developed the company to a point where you really needed to let go in, let it become, you know, from an adolescent to an adult, right. And in, in founders, it’s a very difficult transition for founders to to shift from founder, to CEO to build capacity of a much larger organization because you have to deliberately replicate yourself. You have to let go of things. And then what’s working against you if you’ve been at it a long time is you have a high degree of familiarity so you will tell yourself that, you know, it’s, it may be difficult to let go of certain things so I saw him being, not at his best, and then as it turned out, he got, he was diagnosed with stage four, nasal cancer and the end of 2018 over Christmas. And so what was what was initially a help out thing became hey you’re CEO.
Okay. And I thought, right.
went through chemotherapy and in proton radiation in 2019. And so during 2019 I treated the company like I would a motorcycle I just tore it apart and in your workout from the technology standpoint the people standpoint, you know the process standpoint. And, you know, back to your point, and there were, there were a number of people whose heart were not in it, either because they’ve been in it too long or for a number of reasons. So we had some, we had some. We had some restructuring that was going on and then, you know 20 2020 the pandemic hit, and then, you know, fortunately we we were, we were in a, we were in a good position to be able to you know to stand underneath what came of an extraordinary, you know period of, you know, growth and strain for
Mike Malatesta 43:36
sure. And, and so if I’m hearing you right if the pandemic had come in, say sometime in 2018 or early 2019 You may not have been as prepared to make the impact that you have.
Well we had some weight. Well that’s true, but we had some practice to improve and since I’ve been here for the last three years, California wildfires have gotten progressively worse. Okay, in the fall, and when those happen, you just have a huge spike in demand. I mean I’ve been on, you know I’ve been on. I’ve been on, you know, customer chats late at night with people in California during those things where, you know, the smoke is coming in the house and they’re trying to get, you know, some product to protect their, their child in their bedroom and, and you just put. It’s like a it’s like a storm when it hits it hits really hard, and it puts a big strain on your logistics and being able to get product where it needs to be.
Mike Malatesta 44:40
So when the company was, was founded and maybe up to the time that you came in we had, we hadn’t in the US at least had a pandemic. So you’re making this air purification equipment for other purposes, I presume. During most of the company’s history, although maybe there was some SARS activity that you got involved with, you know, prior prior I don’t know but what so I’m interested in the shift, you know, if I’m, if I’m right in thinking that the products were maybe for word for killing virus necessarily, or a virus like this. What am I right about that and if so what, what, what was your sort of core focus and then what did it become after, after COVID-19 became a thing.
Sure, sure. Let me. So what I would say is that before COVID air purification, was really about allergy relief, and, you know, asthma and breathing difficulties, right, because small particles in the air will trigger your immune system if you breathe them in and cause cause any adverse reaction. And so, and so it’s really was a concerns driven. You bought one because you had a problem you were trying to solve, or you live in an area where the pollution was particularly bad, right, in a metropolitan area, or you were, you had in in California and parts of California or other places you had wildfire concerns, you know, and you wanted to get rid of the smoke, right. So, in that instance right there were two classes of air purifiers there’s a small $100 When you can go on Amazon and buy that, that makes a noise but it’s not going to do much, you know, in a, in a larger space, and then we make the one that if you really have a problem, you come back to so if you look at our business before COVID is largely people that had a real problem they might have bought something and it realized they didn’t get the real product so like if somebody says Andy I want to buy a second do you want the starter bike, or do you want the real bike, because the starter bike is the thing you try, but it’s not good at any one sticker thing the real bike is the thing is designed to, to really do the job. and then when COVID Here. What I would say is this is. It was always true before COVID That when the kids go back to school in the fall, the doctrines offices fill up, they do because you’re breathing shared air. We’re in the same box. Breathing shared air and exposed. It’s just that we’ve accepted that, you know, so many people are going to get, you know, the flu, right, and they’re going to get sick, and we just let the medical system deal with that and we take inhalers or we take, we do all these other kinds of things right to solve for that problem. So even before COVID I always believe that our future of our company was to, to offer relief from disease transmission whether it was COVID Whether it was flu, whatever it is right because it’s in the air, and I think we, we firmly established that now that, hey, it’s in the air, people are getting sick because they are breathing in a shared airspace with somebody else. So to me COVID Just accelerated what I thought was always needed and possible and that is to have a purifier in every school classroom hotel room restaurant, you know, places where people gather where I’m breathing recycled air from the table next to
So, so that’s, that’s really, you know, it’s just, it’s been a tragic accelerator is what I would say.
Mike Malatesta 48:33
And, is there no. Is there no practical way to address that type of thing, on a more macro level like the with the with the H vac systems that are commonly used now for the heating and cooling, and that may be an ignorant question but I’m just curious.
No, no, it’s not an ignorant question at all. I mean, and that’s a lot of the default thinking but see here’s the thing. Ah vac systems are designed to move a lot of volume of air right efficiently because they’re trying to control temperature in in a commercial building humidity. Their job is to control temperature for comfort. In order to do that move a lot of air, you can’t restrict the airflow or it’s not doing its job. Now if I’m going to capture it. I have to run it through a filter like that. This is a great H 13 Heppa filter that will catch a micron sized particle right. But I have to use a lot of, lot of air pressure to push air through this material.
Okay, got it.
If I stuck this in your APEX system it would slow it way down, right. So, so it’s, it’s an H back systems help actually they can by moving a lot of air, but by not restricting them I mean the reality is, I don’t have bigger houses but I would hazard to guess. You’re only breathing air in the room that you’re in at a time, right.
Mike Malatesta 50:03
Yes, that’s not a trick question right yes I am.
You’re only breathing where you are and so the reality is you want to use your H vac system to control the temperature of your home, but you want to use air purification locally in the rooms you tend to frequent the most, and keep those rooms clean net net it’s actually less expensive to do that. But your point is is that when it comes to this question, you’re right. People often go to isn’t that an H back thing. It really isn’t because an H back system has really no chance of materially removing the particle they can move it around and disperse it, but they can’t really capture it.
Mike Malatesta 50:42
Okay. And so they, the business really, I guess, transitioned well maybe not transitioning maybe I have to be the right word, accelerated because now. Everyone was afraid of the air that they breathe air before, no one was afraid of the air that they breathe, except a very small subset of people for whom they had a pre disposed condition that is now on everybody’s mind. So, where do you. Well, what is that done to your business, you mentioned the schools and I’m, I’m interested in learning more about how you’re helping people companies, institutions, organizations, but I also am curious where do you where do you think it’s gonna go. Because people have short memories too, you know, they tend to, when, when, when a emergency is over we kind of go back to, you know, wait, maybe not this time but we, we’ve done that a lot in the past. So I’m curious to get your, your, uh, you know, way better than I do based on the people you’re dealing with,
you know, that’s a great question, I think. I think the reality is the air purifier is going to become the new security alarm airbag fire alarm protective essential, because if you think about it, you pay a monthly subscription for a security service for your home or for your business to award the slight chance that you know you’re going to you know have a criminal activity or criminal event. The same is true for this virus particle because the way COVID is different than h1 in one another before it is is that even with vaccines, you’re still gonna end up having to have some level of business continuity concern so if you’re in a restaurant for example and somebody gets COVID, it’s going to impact your operational capacity in a greater way than the
flu. Right, sure,
okay because of how viral The thing is, so, and I think the other thing is what I’ve seen in behavior side of things is that, and I hate to bring this up but the world has not been the same since September 11 We’ve not felt as safe as a society since terrorism was on display demonstrated in such a you know a tragic way with our, you know, with the Twin Towers right. And so what I’m observing is that you got people that I mean I run, I run a company and so I’ve got people that, that are across the spectrum in terms of their level of personal fear in this fear is highly personal, it’s like a shark is in the water and some people will go well I haven’t seen one in a while, must be good to get back in and you got other people to go I am not getting back in the water again,
Mike Malatesta 53:37
no matter what right
no matter what. And you can tell now but you walk into a place and people that wear masks and people don’t who ever wear masks, people are going to get vaccinated, people aren’t going to get vaccinated. So it’s, it’s, it’s, it is not something I think will will go away in the same way that, that the previous MERS SARS kinds of things did if you look at the recovery charts from those. They were dealt with fairly quickly and thanks snapped back in with COVID. The problem with COVID is and this comes not from me but from a friend who is using that, that, that that industry says it’s a very robust particle. And because it mutates, It cleans derivatives of itself, it’s going to keep doing that the fact that it’s just engineered to be a highly. It’s just durable. It makes it, you know, an ongoing and continuing challenge so I think whether you believe in air purification or not. If you’re the manager of a restaurant if you’re the HR VP company trying to get employees to feel safe. You’re going to want to do something that brings that measure of the safety of everybody, whether you’re wearing a mask whatever you’re going to do
Mike Malatesta 54:56
and when. Just from a practicality standpoint, with your technology and your equipment. How close do I need to be to it, so that I can feel safe, no matter what’s going on, sort of around me, You know, like a restaurant or school or some type of environment like that.
Well, your proximity to if it’s properly sized that not so much an issue what we try to do is turn the air volume over in a given space, four to six times an hour. And if you do the math on that if it’s properly sized it means that somebody could be infected with COVID sitting at a table next to you in the restaurant and you would never get it. Okay, that’s what I was getting for
Mike Malatesta 55:42
going for Yeah. No,
let me be careful. I can’t make absolute claims, they can see me restate that your likelihood is far less.
Mike Malatesta 55:57
Yeah, you can feel safer. Let’s put it that way.
Mike Malatesta 56:03
I’m not here to get anybody in any trouble. So, um, last question I’m going to ask is, had nothing to do with air purification wherever but you mentioned failures at the at the beginning, that you’ve had plenty of failures and I really haven’t asked you about any failures that that you’ve had maybe you got into the farm failing, really, at the time. So, can you share, share with me. You know something that boy if you had it all to do over again and he would.
I would say that so many to choose from. Well I’ll just use this one. I, I think I mentioned to you the industry consortium that I did when I was back in the semiconductor industry. Yes. And I got the industry together the vendors the customers together and created this or led this consortia and. And I think when we first started the idea was we were going to create this standard for people to be able to connect their software and toggle back and forth, you know on it. And the vendors at the time, participated with smiles because what they really thought was that they were going to be able to control the outcome. And so they put a lot of energy behind it, and it put me in the position of having to judge the motives of suppliers who had something at stake in this industry and the short of it is that it failed, it failed because they never really wanted that to succeed because they really wanted to protect themselves and their level of customer traction in the marketplace. And because I was the CEO of this thing that was public in that industry. It was a very public failure. And I remember going to a board meeting. And I said to them, I want I literally went there thinking okay, we should just throw in the towel on this it didn’t work. But instead I went in and said you know what we forgot we forgot that it’s really always about the customer first. It’s about the one we serve. First is not about those that are doing the serving for their own interest, it’s about the customer. And so, that organization changed his name on that in that meeting we decided to change it from CAD framework initiative to silicon integration initiative, which put the big semiconductor companies out front, we created a Customer Council we reformulated the strategy and plans. And then we set about it again to be driven from that perspective and so, you know, it was, it was a hard public lesson to learn but it was one, do not be confused about who the customer is, keep your, your orientation that way and I think the other one is is that, You know, your, if I was listening to my ego, I would have quit and moved on to other things. Because I really believed in what was possible in that space. I, I had to go I had to be able to say, I have failed this has failed this is not going to get us any further miraculous about that is that the people who had been with it. Up to that point, redoubled their commitment, and actually put up more resources to carry it further forward right so you know that’s just, that’s just, there’s all kinds of failure, but there’s not anything quite like public failure, right.
Mike Malatesta 1:00:12
Well, I appreciate you sharing that. Thank you. That failure has led to a lot of success, so I guess that’s the flip side to that right, if you.
Yeah, I will share this with you I went to South by Southwest, which is here in Austin back when it was meeting, and I remember sitting in the audience and I listened to a young guy, his name was Ben Silverman, he was the founder of Pinterest. Okay. And he was being interviewed by someone in Silicon Valley who, who, you know you can tell they were he was basically trying to figure out, how did you do the thing you did right. In other words, Pinterest had a fairly modest beginning with being sent, you know, to 100 by email to 100 friends, and I never forget Silverman’s response he says, well, they’ll use just the elimination of an option along a longer path. And I never found that I thought okay that is so well stated. Yeah, we’re, we’re playing the infinite game here to quote the quote. Simon Sinek,
Mike Malatesta 1:01:18
does it that that’s, those are powerful words I like that. It’s almost as good as all progress starts with the truth that’s up there. Well, Andy, this has been so much fun, how do people find out more about you and Allen Corporation, how do they how do they find out where you want people to go.
You can just go to Alan calm, a l e n.com, and then you will, you’ll see what we do and why we do it and there’s a lot of information there. And then myself personally I’m alone, I’m alone, I’m on LinkedIn and if you just search Andrew M. Allen in Austin, you’ll find me.
Mike Malatesta 1:01:57
Okay. Awesome. Well this has been great. I really do appreciate you coming on the show I thank Cynthia for for introducing us kind of or at least connecting us together and this, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you and I appreciate you sharing your story with us.
Well i Thank you to Mike, you strike me as also a caring and curious person as well.
Mike Malatesta 1:02:18
I do my best.