June 27, 2023

Your Personal Brand and the Power of Connection

For our eighth episode, President & CCO Ethan Whitehill chats with André Davis, Corporate and Community Engagement Executive at Built Interior Construction.  André explains the importance of relationships, community, and an integrated personal/professional brand.

Get to the point with us on the last Tuesday of each month!

Episode Transcript

Ethan Whitehill: Welcome to our podcast. I’m Ethan Whitehill, President, and Chief Creative Officer at Crux, the un-agency that fuels business growth. Here on To-the-Point, we get to the point with entrepreneurs and marketers who have transformed organizations by elevating brands and amplifying missions. My guest today is Andre Davis, a business leader and master connector with more than 20 years of experience advancing all corporate and community engagement.

Andre is an executive at Built. Built uses technology, software and automation to create custom prefab interiors rapidly, cost effectively and sustainably. Outside of Built, Andre is very active on nonprofit and civic boards where he really is in his element, giving back to the community and making an impact on people and organizations.

Andre, welcome to the show.

Andre Davis: It is good to be here. Thank you for having me. I’m thrilled.

Ethan Whitehill: It’s great to have you. I want to start here. You’ve worked in a variety of different industries, from publishing to banking, to construction. How did that career journey prepare you for what you do today at Built?

Andre Davis: There’s a lot there. Sometimes when you pivot, it’s not because you’re chasing an industry or a career. Sometimes you pivot because one career may run its life and then you get pulled into another industry. But at the end of the day, what I was moving towards was purpose and why. What I can tell you is what I was doing prior to what I was doing in the middle to what I do today is still dealing with people. I will always deal with organizations that are dealing with people. My skillset is suited for that. Although there are different industries, I’m having virtually the same conversation. So, to me, it’s different, but I’m still interacting with people I’ve built significant relationships with, so it doesn’t feel different to me. It just feels like I’m solving problems differently.

Ethan Whitehill: What is that conversation typically?

Andre Davis: One of the things about the pivot, I believe, and this I know will strike people a little different, is we get moved in our lifetime – careers, spouses, kids, different locations.

You are being rerouted constantly. When I pivot, the way I look at it, and I lean in on this, is this is just another reroute towards my purpose. The conversations are the same in terms of I’m always interacting with CEOs. I’m always trying to figure out what do they need. If I’m in an industry that can serve that need oftentimes or we’re able to do that. I also believe that just because you don’t financially benefit from that service, you still should help because you’re there for a reason and they’ve expressed the need.

Why would you walk away from that? What I’ve seen from that is if you want t build your relationship capital, be service focused first. There’s an old saying, if you want to gain power, give it away.

Ethan Whitehill: Let’s talk about how you’re applying those skills to Built today. First, tell us what is Built?

Andre Davis: Essentially, Built is an interior construction company that’s leveraging innovation, technology and prefabricated solutions to build the interior of a space very differently. Not a lot of skill trade involved in what we do. A lot of automation through CNC machines. What we have found from that is clients are looking for something different.

When I came into the business, one of the things I wanted to do was to figure out how do they drive revenue? How does Built drive revenue? Who are the people they need to interact with to drive revenue? And then what is our conversation like? So, we did all that and I did a listening tour when I finally came to work.

Because I thought I could help ’em, I really thought I could help the business grow and gain the visibility I felt like we needed in the marketplace. We have a perception problem. There are people that think we are furniture, which we’re not. There are people that think that Built uses partition walls to construct things, we’re not that.

Any business has to evolve. You can’t sustain your life if you don’t evolve. So, I begin to clean up some of the things that I think were misperceptions by listening and asking. What do you think we are? Would it shock you if we weren’t that? And then we’ve evolved here.

And then because of my access to people, they were intrigued, they wanted to know more. I just feel like things are changing so rapidly. We’ve got to get out of the business of dumping product and leading with product first. We’re still dealing with people at the end of the day. When I said in the beginning that my role hadn’t changed, it hadn’t, because what I’m still doing is listening.

There’s two parts of listening. There’s listening and there’s active listening. A lot of people listen to respond. I’m listening because I’m trying to figure out what is the challenge in the business and if I can get that out, then we can begin to talk around areas and what have you done to solve those problems.

We may be a fit for that, we may not be a fit for that. I do think it’s okay to say you’re not a fit. If you’re everything to everyone, you really have just commoditized the business. So, you’ve got to be disciplined and look for the long-term effect of those decisions on the short term. How do they affect you long term?

So that’s what Built was. Let’s think long term. Is that really the best use for our internal client, which is our employees? Is that the best fit for the product line, which is dirt construction, which has a different perception in this marketplace for many reasons?

And then a funky name. It’s a Canadian name and it just makes sense to me. I don’t like the name, but I think they’re geniuses in what they created. All I tried to do was clean up that and begin to add clarity to what it is that we did, but then lean with a solving problem mentality.

The product’s fourth to fifth down the road because it doesn’t matter. People think it matters in the beginning. It doesn’t matter. Especially when you’re talking to CEOs, they don’t care. They really don’t. We think they do because we have this really cool stuff. I’m telling you; I’ve been doing these 25 years.

They do not care. Most times I’m interacting with people. I never bring up our company name or what we do. I authentically am curious about people and their businesses and we’re getting that back a little bit.

We’re starting to put more of the human experience back into business, which is just awful for me to even have to say that. There’s this theory called 21st Leadership that’s coming back. Simon Sinek, Adam Grant and Brene Brown are talking all about this work. I’ve subscribed to it because I came out of environments where they really cared about people, not just people that sat in seats.

If you only care about the seat, you don’t care about the body. How do we get back there?

Ethan Whitehill: Summarize that. What is 21st Century leadership?

Andre Davis: You’re thinking about how someone shows up in your environment. Do they belong in the environment? Do you even know that they have issues in the environment? What kind of trauma exists in the environment? Leaders won’t ask because what they want to do is come back into the environment and pretend that there was no pandemic. I do a lot of thought leadership discussions with organizations that bring me in to talk to their companies.

First question I ‘ll ask is how are you? The first answer I get is “oh, business is really good.” And I’ll say “I never asked about the business. I really asked about you. How are you?” What’s interesting, every employee has trauma. They range from small, medium, massive and monumental stuff to really minute stuff like “my kids don’t have school Friday.”

Most leaders don’t know because they don’t even ask. They don’t ask about the kids. They don’t ask “is everything okay?” They don’t do any of that stuff. I’m telling you, that is at play. That’s why last January we had 4.3 million people quit their job.

We call it quiet quitting. We call it this great resignation. There’s tons of articles, 23 pages of Google pages of the great resignation. It’s a real thing and that’s speaking to the human experience in 21st century leadership. Good leaders are asking “how are you? What do you need from us? what would make your life better?”

Then you’re listening. Some leaders are saying we want you all back in the office. We don’t care what it means for you. People are going to resist that, so I’m just trying to help owners understand there’s a penalty for that. If you’re okay with losing people, then you should deploy that strategy.

If you care about the people that work for you, and that people have worked for you for 5, 10, 15 years, you may want to rethink that approach and go into what I call a listening session, which simply means ask your employees what they need. If you look at the data, there are some people that think that employees want five days at home.

That is not the data. The data says one or two, and they want autonomy in how they work from home. If you trust them, you shouldn’t have a problem, and if you don’t trust them, then you have a bigger problem. That’s where the 21st century leadership comes back in.

Ethan Whitehill: To tie Built back into this, when they do return, you want to give them a place that they want to be in. You want to give ’em the right environment so they can succeed.

Andre Davis: A lot of folks don’t know, Built is part of an organization that built the Johnson County Courthouse, which is a brand-new courthouse in Olathe. We are the company that built Mariner corporate headquarters in Leawood. We’re the company did the first prefab hospital in Leawood called Kansas City Orthopedic Institute. We’re doing all the Spira care centers for Blue Cross Blue Shield. We just built Marty McNell’s family Holding Company, 1248. We just finished up KU Healthcare’s expansion to Overland Park called Corbin Park Medical. We’re around you just don’t know.

When you look at those spaces, those clients wanted something different, and we are something different. That starts with the dialogue. We’re also working with Kansas City University, which used to be Kansas University of Medical Biosciences. They expanded in Joplin and we’re on our third project there.

All of that started not from the product, it started from a dialogue with leadership. What are you trying to solve? What are you trying to do? A lot of it was driven towards how they were building, the speed at which they could build, and the uniqueness.

When I think about 1248, which Chris, Charro, Andrea and that team over there are just awesome to work with. They’re in 46 Penn. They wanted a way to build out a space so that employees would want to come back to work. You have retraction. We’re going to work remotely. Then you have a company like that that says, we’re going to build something new and we’re going to listen to our employees, and because we think we’re listening, we’ll build something they’ll want to come to, and they’re doing that.

It’s just been fun for me not having any experience in construction. It’s funny because even when I went into construction, I lead with my no experience in construction because it’s not my lane. We have a whole team of constructability people that spend time in construction. You don’t need me in that.

Right now, I’m in the conversation, I’m in the meetings. I’m super quiet in the meetings, if you can believe that because I’m taking notes. Sometimes construction people don’t connect the dots for clients that are like me. They go, I don’t know why you would even do that.

I’m there to sort of close that gap, but I’m also there because I’m not good at handing off people to other people. If I brought you into our discussion, it feels off if I leave and you’re now with someone else you’re going to have to build another layer. So, I stay in the meetings, even when I have, and this is maybe not true, no impact in the meeting.

Ethan Whitehill: If I look back through your career, yeah. You have a 20-year history of corporate and community engagement and that would include even this thinking around employee engagement, which you’re introducing here too.

What drives you to this? What’s behind all that for you?

Andre Davis: Here I am now doing what I do today, sitting in boardrooms, interacting with CEOs, solving problems, great business reputation. If you saw how I started, which I really care more about the start than I do about what I do because most people, when they see us, they feel like we’re the finished product.

Like if you talk to someone that’s in their career, they say “I can never do what you do.” I felt the same way. But through my experience, remember the rerouting we talked about earlier? I got rerouted here, I got rerouted here, but I’ve gained all that experience. All that experience that I gained allows me to do what it is that I do.

I think what drives me will always be legacy, my why, and my impact on people. Whether that’s in the nonprofits, which I spend a lot of time in the nonprofit sector, but also in the for-profit sector. One of the greatest things, in terms of being with Built when we did the University of Kansas Health System project – when you see leadership that walks around a space, and they go “this is exactly what we wanted” and all that started with a conversation.

Built prior could never penetrate the walls of University of Kansas Health System. I have some good friends that say good things about me. We had great conversations and we asked them a lot of different hard-hitting questions about what was important. To see that come to fruition, in real life, and then see their reaction, there’s no amount of money that can describe what that feels like.

On the nonprofit side, the amount of money I’ve driven to nonprofits, just because I’m passionate about the nonprofits I sit on boards of and having an impact. But then also the representation matters because when I’m in conference room or board rooms, no one looks like me.

When I’m working with the CEO, no one looks like me. And then you take an industry like construction that is not diverse, you add me into it, and I’m super authentic. So, when you see me, show up and I just talk to Melea – I show up the way I show up, I don’t shrink.

This is the environment. If that environment doesn’t like my authenticity, I’m out and I’m okay with that.

Ethan Whitehill: In addition to corporate branding, but personal and professional brands. I think you’re one in the same. Your personal brand is your professional brand. I don’t see any difference in your persona with those brands.

Correct me if I’m wrong.

Andre Davis: You’re spot on, and I’m proud of that because there was a time in my career where I felt like I couldn’t fully unleash Andre. That is sometimes a lot for people, but when you operate in rooms authentically, oh man, it’s awesome.

Ethan Whitehill: That’s huge and then the brand that you’re working with, Built, benefits from your brand. Your brand is a part of that brand. There’s a challenge, can you put your brand in one sentence?

Andre Davis: Wow. That’s the one sentence. No, I’m kidding. That’s not it.

I’ve never been asked that. I would say this – approachable and always authentic, never arrived, humility, humbled, always eager to help somebody. In fact, I get more kicks out of bringing people together and stepping outta the equation than I do winning work. I just do. There’s something magnificent about that.

I have it happen for me a lot, and it is part of why I have my brand. Anytime that anyone that I trust says I need to meet, it doesn’t have to be a business reason. If Scott Havens, Linda Inco, Joe Goldberg, or any of the people that I’m around on a consistent basis, say Andre need you to meet somebody, I say, when and what time.

Ethan Whitehill: You epitomize Malcolm Gladwell’s profile of a connector to me?

There’s those three profiles, the salesman, the connector, and the Maven, and to make things work, you need all three. You do a great job in that area. You’ve been very giving of your time with podcasts. Shae Perry tells me; she did her homework and she said you’ve been on a lot of podcasts lately.

Why do you participate? What’s the power of podcast?

Andre Davis: It makes no sense for us to retire, move away from the city, or God forbid we pass away with all this knowledge. If you can share the journey because what people see is the suits, you on a stage, you doing a podcast and they think you just woke up and hopped on the stage and was on a podcast.

They don’t understand the beat-up moments in a meeting, the errors you made with a client, the errors you made in your company, because you didn’t know enough when you were trying to figure out your craft, and we just leaned into working through the failure and failure’s not really failure. It’s really recalibration of where you’re supposed to be. We should teach kids early on what failure is. We don’t. I wish we would teach athletes what failure is. I love failure and I have failed a lot at Built, trust me. The problem that people have is they won’t lean into the failure, and they want all the goodies without the failure.

Ethan Whitehill: Well, that seems very consistent with the problem solver in you. There are some big problems to solve and that service is putting you on that path to help.

Now I’m going to put your authenticity to the test a little bit. This is the time on our podcast when we get off the point and I ask you my totally random mystery question.

I have a 20-sided die in my hand. I’m going to let you roll it and whatever comes up will point me to a question that I’m going to fire at you here.

Andre Davis: Yep. Okay.

Ethan Whitehill: It’s a nine. Okay. If you could save one material thing from a fire, what would you save?

Andre Davis: Phone. That’s the first thing that comes to mind because are so many things on that phone.

I think it would be my phone. You said material, you didn’t say human beings. Now, if there’s human beings, I want the audience to know I’m not choosing the phone over my wife and my kids.

Ethan Whitehill: The whole time we were talking about helping others and now you’re going after your family.

Andre Davis: If my family’s in there, of course it’s my family. It would be the phone because you would need to call for help and do all this. That’s the first thing that came to mind.

Ethan Whitehill: And you know what? You’re a connector, so it makes sense. You want to be connected.

Andre, this was fantastic. Thank you for your time. We would love to have you back. If folks want to learn more about Built, where do they go?

Andre Davis: Builtinterior.com. I’m all over social, so I’m easy to find. You can find me there. I look forward to interacting with people that I haven’t met yet, because that’s part of what I do.

Ethan Whitehill: Thank you very much.

Andre Davis: Thank you.

Hosted by Ethan Whitehill

ethan-whitehill-cruxEthan has made a career out of building agencies and growing brands. He founded the firm Two West in 1997, running it as an independent shop for nearly 20 years before combining his firm with an AdAge Top 100 Agency, where he served as CMO. As an agency founder and entrepreneur, Ethan brings a business owner’s mindset to marketing, working on a host of diverse brands, from packaged goods and professional services to hospitality and healthcare.

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