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On The Whistle Podcast | Front Row Seat: Greed and Corruption in a Youth Sports Company

January 6, 2021

Gary Goldberg

What began as an amazing entrepreneurial adventure in youth sports ended under a federal investigation. Steve Griffin tells the whole story in his book Front Row Seat: Greed and Corruption in a Youth Sports Company.

I dive deep into the personal and organizational lessons Steve learned on this episode of the On the Whistle podcast.

Steve and I discussed:
  • What happens when problems seem insurmountable
  • The factors that cause companies to fail
  • What you can gain from your wins and your losses

 

 

Listen now

 

 

Full transcript

Gary Goldberg:

Hey guys, Gary here. Before we get to the show today, I wanted to highlight our sponsor SportsEngine. SportsEngine is dedicated to making the life of a youth sports volunteer easier. Through their applications, people are able to save time on administrative tasks, allowing them more time to focus on developing their athletes. More than a million teams, leagues, and clubs use SportsEngine every day to run their websites, promote their programs, and to collect sign ups. They also offer an easy solution for getting uniforms delivered directly to their athlete's homes. It's called SportsEngine Gear, and you can check it out at sportsengine.com/gear to get started. Great. Now, onto our show.

Announcer:

You're listening to On the Whistle, the podcast that explores the impact that coaches, teacher, and mentors from youth sports organizations and schools have on young people's lives. Let's get into the show.

Gary Goldberg:

Welcome everybody to another edition of On the Whistle. This is your host Gary, and we're super excited to have a lifelong friend of mine on the show today, a gentleman by the name of Stephen Griffin. And I met Steve. He was a classmate of my brother in high school, and I'm about three, three and half years younger than both my brother and Steve. And they both cared for me and took me under their wing. My brother was biologically obligated to do so, and Steve was just a good guy. And I grew up around Steve. We went to the same high school together. And just looking backwards, Steve was a super talented athlete, a solid tennis player, but had an affinity for all things hand-eye coordinated and became a very, very good baseball player, went on to play baseball at Providence College. And we've remained lifelong friends. And recently Steve has written a fascinating book named Front Row Seat. It's available on Amazon. And if you're an Amazon Kindle unlimited user, it's free. And it's also available in paperback via Prime to get delivered certainly before the holiday.

Gary Goldberg:

Front Row Seat is a story of greed and corruption in the youth sports industry, and specifically one company in particular that Steve found himself investing in as well as acting as a CEO. And as a background, Steve has been a former CPA. I don't know if you're currently Steve, a CPA. Do you currently maintain your license?

Steve Griffin:

Nope. Nope, I don't maintain the license.

Gary Goldberg:

But he was a CPA and is an Excel genius, as I look at it, and all around great guy. So, Steve, welcome to the show. I'm super excited to have you here today.

Steve Griffin:

Thank you, Gary. Very nice introduction. I'm thrilled to be here.

Gary Goldberg:

Steve, one of the things that I just want to get out in front is while the book is based on a true story, you've obviously changed the names of the individuals associated with the book and the names of the companies that you were either investing in or operating at the time. But based on that, the facts of the book are accurate, is that a fair assessment?

Steve Griffin:

Correct. Yeah, the facts are 100% accurate. Some names have been changed primarily because of two reasons. There is some ongoing litigation, and some of those litigants are rather aggressive I'd say. And so I wanted to temper things a bit with those folks. And the second matter is there is an ongoing and very active criminal investigation led by the US Department of Justice. And so until that comes full circle, for a number of reasons we wanted to change some names. But no embellishment, very detailed, and fact and circumstances are accurate.

Gary Goldberg:

Steve, the first thing I want to reflect on in reading the book and knowing about your journey through your life is it appears to me that the company that you found yourself involved with almost had no soul. And it's the only way I can describe it in comparison to other organizations or coaches that I've had on the show or we've worked with with our parent company SquadLocker, they seem to have these other underlying efforts or directions about what they're trying to achieve.

Steve Griffin:

Yeah, missions.

Gary Goldberg:

Mission. Thank you. Thank you, I was looking for the word. So, these guys at Steel Sports, I don't know if you're familiar with Steel Sports, but they're driven with really helping kids become successful adults and contributing in the world. And Digit Murphy, who I interviewed recently, she's all about getting these young women engaged and finding their voices and stuff. And in reading the book, I didn't hear a lot of that, I didn't feel a lot of that. And I'm just wondering did you sense the same thing I did?

Steve Griffin:

Yeah.

Gary Goldberg:

And why is there is such a huge black hole in this thing?

Steve Griffin:

Yeah, a hole there, if you will. It's a great question. Let me back up just a bit because I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't sort of lay this out. So, I'd invested in a number of sports related businesses, live event businesses, operators of tournament showcases, club programs, all the way through to a business that was a software company that Mark Cuban and I actually were investors in along with Chris Patton, who you know-

Gary Goldberg:

Sure.

Steve Griffin:

... that operated and provided cognitive training, so virtual repetition to really elite athletes both pro and college. So, been around the space a little bit. I'm a capitalist. I believe if you operate a business well and you identify attractive market, there's upside for those people who deploy resources. Having said that, I believe that this market in particular, the sub-collegiate youth sports market, whether it's the bottom of the pyramid, closer to the rec level, or the top of the pyramid being the very elite, aspirational portion of the marketplace, deserves something else. They deserve programming that's embedded with good, values-based, what is sportsmanship, why are you an important member of your community, how do you treat teammates, how do you win with humility, lose with dignity. If you are given the opportunity to participate in sports, then maybe you should be giving something else back to the community through philanthropy, volunteerism, et cetera.

Steve Griffin:

So, I do personally have that view of this business. I don't want to just make money in the youth sports market and not feel like we're doing good at the same time. I believe that was also initially part of the charter for what we'll call Epic, the company in the book. At some point, I think that the management team, the incumbent management team, failed to live those values day in and day out. It kind of went off the rails at some point. I'm not so cynical that I don't think they believe that, many of the people that worked there believed in a mission of providing great experiences for families. But at some point there were financial elements, there were related-party transactions, there were competing businesses that weren't disclosed. There were a lot of things that went on behind the scenes that overshadowed and overwhelmed the mission, if you will, of the business. Does that make sense?

Gary Goldberg:

Sure, it makes perfect sense. And so the thing that I'm most curious about is I've known you for a long time and you're a very, very sharp reader of people. And I think you may have once told me that puppies and kids know bad people or some funny quote like that. But how did your spider senses not go off early on this thing?

Steve Griffin:

I blew it, in my opinion. I missed it. And it's funny, I'm actually giving a presentation right after the new year to an organization of internal auditors, of all things, as a former CPA on how did I miss certain red flags. And not just me, but we had third-party due diligence done both on financial and legal side. I had other co-investors alongside of me that missed it as well. And so here's how I would summarize it. First and foremost, I am extremely bullish and positive on the market itself, the youth sports market, the industry and the opportunity. It's a big market. It's really fragmented, a lot of small operators. And there's an opportunity to elevate the experience from just the logistics of operating a club or an event all the way through to those values that I discussed earlier, really infusing those in the [inaudible 00:09:44]. And so I think there was a little bit of irrational exuberance in terms of, "Hey, if we see a few flaws in this business, it's okay because it's a really big market." And so I think there was an excitement level of, "We like the space, and this looks like it could be a good platform, and let's put those negative things we see, or those red flags, off to the side." That's two categories I guess.

Steve Griffin:

The more those red flags popped, they tended to be things that we viewed, believe it or not, as opportunity. So, for example, the management team, the leadership, early on during diligence had inconsistent communication. We could reshape that in our minds, "All right, they're not that sophisticated. They're not that refined. They're entrepreneurs. We'll help them with processes like that going forward." Systems weren't integrated as much as we wanted them to be, meaning things like from registration all the way through to the general ledger. Opportunity, right? That's what we're good at. We'll identify the workflow, we'll invest in systems, we'll bring in better accounting staff, and by the time we get done we'll have a machine here that can be a seamless consumer experience all the way through to marketing analytics and so on. So, I think those things that we normally would've seen as red flags, we tried to put in buckets as opportunity because we were so excited and so bullish on the industry, and we under-weighted those red flags clearly.

Steve Griffin:

And then the last thing I'd say is, look, a liar never tells you they're lying to you.

Gary Goldberg:

Right. That's the hard one, right?

Steve Griffin:

Yeah. And I hate to say it, but the liar has a distinct advantage. I operate from a position of trust. You and I have a conversation. I may not agree with your position on something, but I inherently believe that what you're sharing with me you believe to be true. And even in our society, pushing back too much is looked down upon. You can only ask a question so many times before it gets uncomfortable. And so that combination of operating from a position of trust and being deliberately misled, it's hard to dig out from under that. And information you get and a very short period of time for your due diligence is always management prepared. And so you're at the mercy of the information that's being provided to you.

Gary Goldberg:

There's a fascinating dichotomy in the book between the facts that you're revealing to the reader and your own personal take on the facts. And since I know you as a friend, I'm reading into the way you're writing about yourself. And I can see and hear Steve Griffin in a lot of the writing because I knew you well. You talk about being uncomfortable. There's a quote in the book, it says, "This company had made me quite comfortable being uncomfortable." What did you mean by that, Steve?

Steve Griffin:

I finally had gotten to the point where every day, that's an overstatement, but consistently there was something happening in this business that was challenging, that didn't add up, that forced difficult conversation. And so back to what I said a moment ago of asking questions two or three times, changing the way you ask it to try to get to the right answer, asking for supporting information or documentation. In a normal environment where you would fear that the person across from you would think that you don't trust them and it would be uncomfortable, I'd gotten to the point that I was entirely comfortable asking those difficult questions. I had experienced that so many times that I was finally at the point where it doesn't matter. I've got a Department of Justice search and seizure warrant on my desk, I am going to call up an individual who works in that division and ask some very difficult questions about the way they process visas for our employees. It became a very toxic, uncomfortable place, and you had to show up every day and operate in that environment.

Gary Goldberg:

You and I were fortunate enough to go to a prep school that spoke about the importance of truth. In fact, the motto of the school was for the honor or truth which is an introduction to one of your paragraphs. I'm just curious, thinking back on your experience around the Quaker values of Moses Brown School and some great coaches and mentors that you and I experienced at the school, did those values, did you find them coming up? Were they guiding you? Or were they so old that they were just a normal part of your routine?

Steve Griffin:

No, more relevant than ever and coming to life during it. Probably a very interesting exercise or study on how your brain works.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, because there's a lot of awakenings, Steve, of you in this book. And you reflect on them. You say, "And then I got to this point, and then I got to that point, and then I started realizing." It's remarkable.

Steve Griffin:

Yeah. What's interesting is if you were to ask me... And we talked about this a little bit before. But the theme of your podcast, which I think is terrific, around people that have influenced you, coaches that have influenced you, and so on, to tie it back to that. It was two men, not to just narrow it to two, but two men that have been in my life when I think about values and moral compass and principles. One is my dad. I always used to say to people, "If I was making a business decision or thinking about what's the right thing to do in this situation, it's a very simple litmus test for me. It's what would Phil Griffin do?" He's a very highly principled guy that would never compromise his values in making business judgment.

Steve Griffin:

The other is actually a guy that was only in my life for a very short period of time, quite frankly, but at a very formidable period of my life which was our baseball coach at Moses Brown, a guy named Paul Donovan who passed away not too long ago. Paul, although it was his first year at Moses Brown after a long career of coaching at Hope High... He was an English teacher, and before that he was a professional baseball player. He was a man of quiet integrity. He lived a values-based life. He made you know that he cared about you as an individual whether you were the starting shortstop or you played one inning every two games. You knew he cared about you as a person. He lived his life around discipline and sportsmanship and not being flashy, just showing up and doing the job every day.

Steve Griffin:

And I think about how that dovetailed with the Quaker values at Moses Brown and the slogan, if you will, of for the honor of truth. And there came a point where, in the book, you feel like every time you turn around you're getting kicked in the gut, and this can't continue.

Gary Goldberg:

You talked about it as a boxing match Steve. You said every day at this company felt like a boxing match.

Steve Griffin:

Yeah. And body blow after body blow, whatever. And so you either just go down to a knee and say, "That's it, I'm done." Or you say, "No, you know what? This is ridiculous. Number one, we've got customers. We've got employees. We have investors. We have lenders. We have auditors. We have attorneys. We have all these stakeholders that want the best here, and we're not going to lose and we're not going to give in to those that have made a series of decisions based on lies or misrepresentations or greed or corruption," or whatever it was. And so I think the ability to reflect back on a couple of people like that and how they lived their life or the themes that we were taught at Moses Brown provide a really important reinforcement of your own value set at moments like that.

Gary Goldberg:

There's an interesting characteristic of the book where you're trying to walk a balance beam or a tightrope between finding harmony with the organization that you're working in, and I can tell you're trying encourage the right behaviors, and not be so disruptive that the efforts of the people that were working would lose traction or it would start to break apart, the teams would start break apart. And that sounded really challenging because I can tell in the book that your intentions were to drive success and harmony, and you could only push so hard so often. And I think, being in a team, there's quiet leaders, there's loud leaders, they're both important. But there's this sense that you've got to always balance your own personal behavior to figure out how you're going to integrate into a bigger group. There's a great quote in the book where you go down to a golf event, you get invited down to a golf event, and I guess you guys played well and some of the guys got some credits at the golf shop. And you write, "The guys were thrilled. They bought shirts in the pro shop with their credits. More importantly, they liked me. I knew when to speak up and when to keep my mouth shut." How did that work for you? How did you figure out when to speak up and when to keep your mouth shut? And why was being liked important?

Steve Griffin:

Well, so that quote actually goes back to when I was in public accounting. So, that's a reference to my first-

Gary Goldberg:

You're right, you're right. I misspoke. You're right.

Steve Griffin:

No, no, but that's okay.

Gary Goldberg:

That's right, that was when the head guy, one of the bigger guys in the firm-

Steve Griffin:

[crosstalk 00:20:16], yeah.

Gary Goldberg:

... found out you were a decent golfer and snatched you for a member member.

Steve Griffin:

Yeah. There's two elements off of that I'd say. Number one was as a young person having that opportunity, being exposed to something like that, for me that was an eye-opener of, "Oh, okay." Particularly as an accountant, "Okay, part of the job, part of your career, part of work is more than just being in a cubicle with my head down working in an Excel spreadsheet," or what have you. There's an element of building trust and building relationships and business development and so on. And those are things that typically are not necessarily in the makeup of someone who chooses the accounting profession who prefer to be in the numbers or preparing a tax return or what have you. So, I guess on the one hand that was an interesting revelation to me that, "Hey, this can be good for business," the social side of it and playing golf and knowing when to be self-deprecating around people that are senior to you or whatever. So, that's one.

Steve Griffin:

I guess bringing it into the context of the company in the book, of trying to find that balance that you're talking about of pushing too hard, managing a team, or what have you. I'm not, and I've said this, people that worked with me have heard me say this several times, I am not some charismatic, on a soap box, Tony Robbins, cheerleader type of manager. It's not who I am.

Gary Goldberg:

I can testify to that.

Steve Griffin:

My hope is that I am somebody who, over time, people will realize he's going to work really hard, he's going to show up early, he's going to stay late, he's not going to take credit for things. It'll be, "We, we, we." Nobody works for me, we work together. And when something bad happens, it's going to be on me. Or an initiative isn't going well, we'll figure it out together. That's on me. The problem we had in this company was if you have a business that is relatively stable with a culture of people who have bought in and have a mission that's driving them and there's not all sorts of uncertainty or vindictive behavior or destructive behavior from the outside, then I think that type of leadership works. Quiet, team-based, show up, get it down, it's a marathon not a sprint, I think that works.

Steve Griffin:

The problem is when you're constantly getting undermined or taking those body punches and the clock is ticking or the company's facing liquidity issues or you're trying to explain to your staff once every three months there's another litigation hold email going out because of litigation or a criminal investigation, the waters are getting poisoned. And I think, in hindsight, that was a real challenge for me, was I couldn't lead quietly by example because there was a constant uncertainty in the air. And that uncertainty was getting fanned by certain other parties. If I pushed too, too hard and tried to demand people to get on board, that's not going to work either. I was viewed as a suit coming into this business.

Steve Griffin:

Look, in the end, it failed, the business failed. And it failed for a lot of reasons. It's like a plane crash, it doesn't crash because of one or two variables, it crashes because of a convergence of five, six, or seven variables. I don't know if management style contributed to it. I don't know if we could have gathered people more quickly to be on board by taking different tactics. I don't know if we could've cleaned house quicker. But I think all of those variables made it an extremely challenging environment to manage under the normal circumstances. Long-winded answer.

Gary Goldberg:

And I appreciate it. There's a funny quote. There's this guy Tony, and I guess he's at the driving range, right?

Steve Griffin:

Yeah.

Gary Goldberg:

"Tony was a short, stocky guy with an even shorter backswing. I heard him say, 'Everything's going to the right. Why the hell does everything go to the right?' I wanted to say because you're stance is wide open, you're coming across the ball and your standing up at impact. It has to go right. Instead, I remained silent." There's a lot of self-restraint. You show a lot of self-restraint in the book. But as the book goes on and then story becomes more dire and the pressure rises, the language in the book changes. Your ability to remain restrained changes. And it also starts to take a tremendous toll on you physically as well as emotionally is what I'm reading.

Steve Griffin:

Yeah. Very interesting that you noticed that. Just to be clear, I wrote this book... I didn't intend to write a book, number one. I wrote this book in literally 60 days from beginning to end. I know some of the early releases even have typos in it, very, very little editing other than verb tense and things. And so in hindsight, looking back at it, I've noticed the same thing. Early on, it is written in a more parochial manner, there's less inappropriate language, there's less sarcasm or whatever. And as time goes on, it gets darker, the language gets a little bit worse, my tolerance for nonsense diminishes. And that's all honest, authentic sort of stream of consciousness, but it's also reality.

Steve Griffin:

And I talk a lot about dreams. Not a lot, but I mention a number of dreams that I had that are true and really accurate. And with Parkinson's, one of the problems with Parkinson's, for many Parkinson's patients is your dreams become incredibly vivid and at times very disturbing. And I've always been one who dreams anyone, and I can remember my dreams. But they've gotten even crazier and worse. In hindsight, looking at the way the book was written, and I didn't realize it but I think that tone, the changing of the tone over time is telling the reader that this can't go on much longer, your tolerance for this nonsense is not going to last and it's going to take a toll physically and mentally. And I think even the dreams that I referenced are a clear indication that I was heading into a very dark place.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, and you bring it up and it's important for our listeners to understand, during the multi-year tenure at this organization that you were trying to build an equilibrium and bring it to profitability you were diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. And I remember you and I were talking at the time, and you called me up and shared with me that you had been diagnosed with this disease. And I said, "Geez, Steve, I wanted to talk to you today about business, but I don't feel like I can do that right now." And you corrected me instantaneously. You said, "Oh, the hell with that, Gary. Come on, that's what I want to talk about." And so, one, I was relieved when you said that to me because I didn't... When you have a friend who's hurting or suffering, you want to give them everything you can possibly do, but you also don't know how to sometimes. So, for you saying to me, "Oh, I want to talk about work," was a little bit like letting me off the hook in a way, Steve. But I also think there's something in the book about, you talk about a lack of sleep, you talk about... And I can't tell whether it's the stress related to the business or your-

Steve Griffin:

Yeah, both.

Gary Goldberg:

... growing illness. You talk about the physical wear and tear on your body. But the one thing I love that you wrote that I suffer from and feel and can totally relate to, and I think other people who hear this will relate to this, when you're alone in bed at night and you're thinking about a problem, it grows in that dark room like a kid with a monster under the bed. And I've been in situations where I've got whatever problem it is at work or whatever thing that I don't have right in my life that I want to be better, and I sit alone with it at night. And I know my wife's sleeping next to me and everybody's quiet in the house, and my heart rate picks up and the pace of my thinking picks up, and I start to spiral. Now, my only cure for that is to open up a Kindle or a book and start to just try and calm myself down and get tired again.

Gary Goldberg:

But the amazing thing, the amazing relief is when you finally get to morning, I put my two feet on the ground, I'm like, "Oh well, I'll just start to deal with it." It's almost as long as I can box, I can do it. As long as I can get out and manage it, whether it's phone calls or talking to people or making a decision. But at night, Steve, it's vicious, isn't it? And it's so self-assaulting.

Steve Griffin:

Yeah, it is. And it's awful whether it's a personal family matter or it's a work matter. It doesn't vary. If you're the only one awake and it's the middle of the night, the problem seems insurmountable. And I put that in there, I put it in the book from a business perspective because I wanted... I guess in both, even on a personal perspective because I know other people experience that, and I just wanted people to hear from someone else and go, "Jesus." At least there might be a little bit of peace knowing that I just listened to Steve and Gary, these two poor bastards have the same problem that I have in the middle of the night. There might be some peace in knowing that, okay, someone else has dealt with that too and they came out the other side. The sun comes up in the morning. It's amazing.

Steve Griffin:

You're right, whether it's putting your two feet on the floor and getting going or just all of sudden your wife stirs and she's getting up and the dogs are moving around and the suns up. And you're like, "Ah, you know what? Let me get my pad and paper and put my list together and figure out how to attack these problems today." And so that's one of the last themes of the book for me. The book is broken up into a bunch of different things, maybe four different levels or something. An interesting sports industry story, and interesting failure due diligence, and then there's managing through a difficult culture, managing through a corrupt or even criminal enterprise, and then the last I guess would be the human condition and personal resiliency.

Steve Griffin:

And I think that, what you just touched on, speaks to a lot of that which is, "Hey, look. No matter how bad it gets," and in this story it gets pretty bad, "you're going to come out the other side. You can't give up." Even if the business fails in the end which stinks, believe me, you're going to be okay and another door is going to open or you'll find peace and acceptance and redemption in some fashion. But I just want different constituents to get different things from this book. And probably the most important constituent is the one who might be suffering. And to read and say, "Ah, Jesus, this poor guy. Look at him, every time he turned around he was getting pounded, and he still figured out how to come out the back side of it." For me, that felt like a good way to wrap the book up.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, and I appreciated it. And reading and seeing it build, and then getting to a point, quite frankly, of just complete failure and then calmness. There's a part in the book, Steve, where there's a gentleman being accused of-

Steve Griffin:

Complete failure, I don't like. I didn't know you were going to hit me with the phrase complete failure, but [crosstalk 00:32:35].

Gary Goldberg:

Well, it dies, right?

Steve Griffin:

Yeah.

Gary Goldberg:

And part of it is COVID related. I think majority of it is COVID related because in talking to you, you had it right where you wanted it towards the end, but then COVID stole it from you with all the cancellations. But Steve, there's a piece in the book where there's a gentleman being accused or being investigated, and he started crying to you on the phone. And you said to him, "Look, you can't go home to your wife and your daughters like that. They can't see you like that." And I found it unfair for you to say that. And I want to understand where you're coming from with that. Because isn't that kind of like layering on this men don't get to feel, men don't get to emote, men have to be the stalwart, steel-faced thing? And doesn't that put additional pressure and unwellness around people that are asked to behave that way? And isn't that a little bit of a reflection on yourself and what you tortured yourself with through the process? I mean shouldn't you just say to the guy, "Geez, I'm so"... And I know you're empathetic and there's a ton of empathy from you in this book on all levels, so I don't want to characterize you as a brute in any way. But why couldn't the guy go home and seek comfort in a more open way?

Steve Griffin:

Yeah, it's a good question. I hadn't even thought of it. Yeah, maybe I shouldn't have suggested that to him. I'll give you some context. Literally, I think it was the night the Department of Justice raided our soccer subsidiary. He was the COO of that company. His hands were quite dirty. I think he was realizing from what he had heard that day at the Federal Building that they had him and others. He was in the cross hairs. He had been handed a target letter, not something that's that lovely to receive I wouldn't imagine. And all I pictured was this guys is unraveling. He's thinking about potential jail, he's thinking about walking in that house. And I knew that he had two very young children, and I just thought, "God, I picture him going in and being a disaster."

Steve Griffin:

And I just thought, at this moment, his wife and kids don't need that. And I was also a little bit worried about what he... I just didn't feel good about his state of mind at that moment. So, I guess it was a quick decision but it was like, "Hey, gather yourself. Stop. Get control. It's not fair to your wife. It's not fair to your kids right now." Almost like, "Hey, you put yourself in this spot. We'll figure it out over the next couple of days probably, but the last thing you need are your two little daughters watching you coming in the house like a total mess." Maybe it was the wrong thing but that was where my head was that day.

Gary Goldberg:

Steve, we've talked a lot about the complexities and difficulties that you faced at this company. Tell me some of the good stuff that you saw. I mean where were the wins? Are there stories and anecdotes about great coaches helping kids or cool community events? Where's the silver lining?

Steve Griffin:

So, even through this, yeah, I come back to the industry itself presents such an incredible opportunity for coaches and business people to have an impact on young lives, assuming that the priorities are set properly. And there's nothing wrong with highly aspirational, so-called elite athletes who want to go play in college or dream of playing at the next level. That's fine. As long as the foundation of all of that is set in values, in principles. And so those things happen every day all over the country in this business and in other businesses. Great coaches, great insights, great training provided by organizations like the Positive Coaching Alliance. Kids from these types of programs turning around and mentoring and working with kids at Best Buddies or Special Olympics and so on. Those are the things that I think are so attractive about this industry, number one.

Steve Griffin:

Number two, one thing that we saw happening, and we were really close to launching a pretty special program, was the alignment of our company, a live event and club type business, with global brand around embedding programming and curricula that includes value system. So, Nike, Adidas, and others, they're all at the point now where they know that this generation of kids are pretty principled and are drawn to certain causes. And the brands want to support that and they want to be aligned with that. And so seeing that opportunity of a global brand with a big voice and a mass of stable and professional athletes that influence kids working with these smaller organizations to drive those value sets, to me, was really cool. And in those discussions, the conversations were around what does that curriculum look like? What are those values? How do we create a series of steps for kids, from the time they're 10 years old until they head off to college, that are building leadership and humanity elements that make them good corporate citizens when they're coming out of college? It wasn't around how to influence purchasing decisions or direct to consumer strategy. It was authentic and real hearing the way those brands were thinking about this generation. So, on a more macro level, that to me is a really exciting opportunity in the market.

Steve Griffin:

And then, micro level in the business, we had so many really great people who stayed with the company through the difficult times, who joined the company even knowing that it was broken to a certain extent but saw the opportunity to have an impact.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, your HR manager, Steve. Your HR manager seemed like a huge help for you.

Steve Griffin:

Top notch. Unbelievable.

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, I have one here too. I have one here. And I can reflect on mine and seeing yours, and when you have a partner like that in the business, Steve, it's so valuable.

Steve Griffin:

Oh yeah. I mean, forget titles, she should've been the CEO of the company. In terms of her understanding of not just what people needed in the business to feel fulfilled and inspired and have a pathway of personal growth, but she also understood and was constantly learning how the business operated, literally, from a pure operational perspective, so she could figure out what people needed to be successful and so on. And yeah, I talk about it in the book. I mean when I interviewed her, I told her everything about the business. Because I didn't want someone to take the job and be like, a week later, "What the hell? You sold me a bill of goods." I wanted it to be a completely transparent interview process. And she looked at it as an opportunity to clean things up and put in place processes and controls and such. And she exceeded expectations.

Steve Griffin:

The woman that came in to head up all the technology front, same thing. Just incredible motor, tireless worker, just wanted to do a great job every day. We had people in finance who were awesome. I had a young guy who worked alongside of me every day. I don't even know what title I'd call him, but he was my right hand. And he would anticipate what needed to be done and didn't care how dirty it was or how difficult it was or how late he had to be there. He would raise his hand and take on the task. So, there were great stories like that and it goes across. I leave out a bunch of people but there were tons of incredibly good people. And then service providers. I mention it in the back of the book. There's attorneys that were just... I used to say the word attorney and cringe thinking about how expensive they are by the hour. And oftentimes you're using them because you're in a difficult spot. There's three or four of those guys who I considered dear friends because of how they stepped up and supported the business and supported me and genuinely cared during the most difficult times. So, there were a lot of really positive things that came out of a very difficult circumstance.

Gary Goldberg:

Steve, I know that you are a very competitive person because I've been in situations where we were younger and I tried to either beat you at something or keep up with you at something. And so I know you've played in a ton of games, in a ton of tournaments, in a ton of different events. And I'm just curious, what do you think you've gained more from, Steve, the wins or the losses?

Steve Griffin:

The losses, no question.

Gary Goldberg:

Really?

Steve Griffin:

Absolutely no question.

Gary Goldberg:

You're that certain?

Steve Griffin:

No question about it. Yeah, no doubt. I learned more through this book and this experience than I learned obviously four years of undergrad, two years of graduate school, and God knows how many years of working and/or successful projects and investments. I learned more here than anywhere else. Painful as hell, and there's moments where you're thinking I will never, ever say that I learned from this. But late nights on the train riding home, just awful, awful days you're like, "This will never have any redeeming quality." And yet, six months later, I can tell you it was one of the most educational experiences I've ever been involved in both professionally and personally.

Gary Goldberg:

In wrapping up, there's a lot of reflection on you and Kristine and the kids. And I'm just curious, it seemed like you had admitted ignoring or neglecting your relationship with your family because you were so immersed in this challenge at work. But when you come out the other side, towards the end of the book, you talk a lot about gratitude and you talk about reconnecting with Chase because of the Peloton experience and Georgia caring for you. And I know that your oldest son is obviously a little bit more removed and a little bit more on his own. But did you find peace and reconnection towards the end with your family? And how are they today?

Steve Griffin:

Yeah, knock on wood, everybody's great. Everybody's healthy. We are addicted to Peloton. Full disclaimer, I don't own stock in Peloton or anything like that. But we are, as a family, addicted to it. And yeah, it was a period of time where it wasn't like I lost contact or sight of what was important because I was drawn to something else. It was just it became so consuming out of necessity that I became disconnected from my family. I'm not saying it well. It wasn't like I had some midlife crisis and I wanted to be hanging out somewhere and, as a result, I left my family behind. This was I had invested my own capital. I felt responsible for other investors and people in the business. I'm on the board, so I have a fiduciary duty. I'd become an officer of this company because we had to make changes. And so I took those responsibilities very seriously and felt that this thing needed constant attention.

Steve Griffin:

And I think I realized at some point towards the end that there is a price to pay for that, mentally, physically, and your family relationships. And things were a blur, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. And I think, yeah, my relationship with my family I think has never been better. And I'm hoping that this awakening, as you call it, continues to lead towards professional behavior and conduct and a lifestyle that ensures that I have a balance going forward. And I'm confident it will. As somebody once said to me, you can't go back, and I'm not going back.

Gary Goldberg:

I like that. At the end of the book, there are discussion topics for a case study. And you lay out almost like a curriculum if you want to use this book as a teaching guide for all sorts of really interesting topics. If a school or a league or an association wanted to reach out to you, Steve, what's the best way to get ahold of you? What is your best contact information?

Steve Griffin:

Well, you can always get me at griffin... You want my email address, literally?

Gary Goldberg:

Yeah, however you want people to reach out to you.

Steve Griffin:

You can get me at griffin@g5capital.com. Griffin is G-R-I-F-F-I-N, @g5, the letter G, the number five, and then the word capital, with an A, .com. In the front of the book, there's an email or contact information as well. And to that point about the curriculum or case studies or what have you, it's interesting, we've been contacted by several public accounting firms, the Association for Internal Auditors, fraud examiners, and so on. Didn't plan on this but we're creating little sub-curricula in case studies that come out of the book that CPAs and others will be actually earning their continuing professional education credit by simply reading the book and completing the little case studies.

Gary Goldberg:

Cool.

Steve Griffin:

So, a nice byproduct of it.

Gary Goldberg:

Steve, thanks so much for being on today. We wish you tremendous success with your book. And, as always, say hi to Kristine and the kids. And we'll see you around town.

Steve Griffin:

Thank you, Gary. I enjoyed it. All the best to your family.

Announcer:

You've been listening to On the Whistle. For more [inaudible 00:48:45], subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player, or visit us at onthewhistle.com.

 


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