Meet Ken Lear
Based in the Detroit area, Ken Lear is an entrepreneur, consultant, mentor, and family man.
Ken Lear attended Pennsylvania State University where he studied Marketing and International Business. He obtained his Bachelor of Science from the Smeal College of Business Administration and played soccer for Penn State’s prestigious Nittany Lions. Lear continues to strengthen his ties as an alumni through participation in Penn State’s Varsity “S” Club, the Penn State Alumni Association and the Penn State Club Soccer Alumni group.
Ken currently resides in the metro Detroit area, where he leads an organization responsible for the acquisition and retention of clients for a wide range of industries.
Ken Lear’s Journey as a Businessman
Q: What’s the key difference between being an employee and an entrepreneur?
Ken Lear: If you do it right, when you work for yourself you can create freedom. Freedom to choose, freedom of finance, freedom to do the things you enjoy doing. Business owners get to make decisions based on their values, not based on what someone else is telling them they should do. For me as an entrepreneur, there’s meaning in my day — it’s not just “working for the man.” You could work in corporate America and make a company millions of dollars of profit. Or, you can work for yourself and create something, build something, and be challenged. You might not necessarily start off making millions, but if you do it right and you work hard, then you can build what you want. And it’s what you want, not what other people want.
Q: What do you view as the biggest challenge of entrepreneurship?
Ken Lear: When you run your own business and manage a company with a lot of people, your people’s issues become your issues. So you need to learn how to have the emotional strength to help people through things – and financial strength too. You really have to be a jack of all trades and learn how to do it all – training, developing, hiring, financial management, decision-making.
Q: What motivated you to push through the tough times when you were a new entrepreneur?
Ken Lear: I’m very negatively motivated. It motivated me when people said ‘you can’t do this, it’s not going to work out’. I remember reuniting with my college roommate and he told me that my business wasn’t going to work. I even had a girl break up with me for the same reason. I was so motivated by the people who, who for whatever reason, didn’t believe that I would turn this thing into a wealth machine.
Q: How did your sports background translate into business success?
Ken Lear: My whole childhood revolved around soccer – my older brother, Jeff, and I played soccer since we were around 3-4 years old. Sports taught me to how to work in a team, how to relate to a ton of different types of people from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different strengths, different weaknesses. It taught me to rise to the occasion, to take ownership and be a captain and lead people.
It also taught me work ethic. As a child, I would practice out in the front yard for hours at a time. I remember going out and juggling with my dad and having little competitions. My dad would juggle the soccer ball five times and then he’d say, “okay now you have to do fifteen times as many as I did.” So if he did 10 then I’d have to do 150 — and I’d stand there and juggle the ball while he’d count. All that effort and discipline, the things that went on behind the scenes, were what got me to the state and college teams. My mom used to say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” If you want it bad enough, you’ll figure it out, you’ll work to get it. I’ve taken all of these lessons with me in my career.
Q: Did you set out wanting to work in the outsourced sales industry?
Ken Lear: I knew I needed experience and my advisors told me that if I ever wanted to be a CEO I would need to appreciate and understand sales. But actually, I didn’t want to do sales. I interviewed with a business-to-business sales company in Cherry Hill, NJ and shadowed the position and decided it didn’t seem like sales, it seemed more like customer service. It seemed really basic. Once I got the position, I even wore a sweater vest to the office — because that’s what customer service people wear.
Q: How have you developed and evolved as a leader over the years?
Ken Lear: In my 20’s I didn’t realize that my competitive mindset was hurting my communication. I didn’t have awareness of things you should say or not say to people and I thought I was motivating them when I was really just ticking them off. There were times that I didn’t know I was being selfish. I’ve learned that you have to communicate with a person in a way that will best serve them, not you.
Another thing I learned the hard way is that I can’t want something for someone more than they want it for themselves. I’ve learned to put my energy into people who communicate with me, who are fun to be around, and who are actually doing what they say. I get energized by talking to people who are excited and want to do well for themselves.
Q: So, is there any advice that you would give your younger self?
Ken Lear: I wish that in my 20’s I wasn’t so hard on myself, because it all worked out. If you have the right intention and you have the right attitude — and you keep your head down and work hard — and you surround yourself with successful people, then you’ll do fine.
Q: You always talk about attitude as being important. Do you ever have a bad day? If so, how do you handle it?
Ken Lear: Yes, in fact, just the other day I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. It seemed like everything was going wrong that morning and I knew that I needed to shift my mindset if I was going to have a good day. I dragged myself to the gym first thing and told myself that I had to go hard and get strong. I really pushed myself to the limit. Then, I took my usual 5 to 10 minutes in the sauna. I thought through my day and to released my negative thoughts to have a clear state of mind to attack my day. I had my shake and turned on the music in the car (music has an amazing way of getting your mind straight). I told myself, “I’ve got my superman suit on – I’m invincible and I can take on the world.” I told myself, “We’re going to have an amazing day.”
What I’ve realized is that lots of other people go through the same things — and I just want to tell them that there’s a way to change your mindset if you’re having a bad day. We’re in this together. I deal with the same challenges and have the same obstacles as everyone else. I don’t have it all figured out. I know sometimes people think I do, but I really don’t. We’re going to have our ups and downs as a business and as individuals.
Q: What aspect of your work excites you the most?
Ken Lear: Seeing the light bulb turn on when I teach someone something new, that they initially doubted they could do. I think it is empowering and exciting to see someone become confident in themselves.
Q: Who is someone you look up to and admire — and why?
Ken Lear: There’s a man named Gary in my industry (who my colleagues all know, but I’ll leave his last name out). He’s an incredible human being. He goes into things with the purest of intentions. There are so many people who have influence and don’t do it right. He runs a 300 million dollar business that makes an impact on a lot of lives. I think it says a lot about someone when they are selfless with their time and they want to help people just for the sake of helping them. He is still incredibly disciplined and prepared for meeting with people — even if it’s an entry-level person he’s never met before. He’ll remember your name the next time see you months later (and he meets thousands and thousands of people). He’s an incredible dad. He’s got a connected family. He’s just a great person.
Q: What do you do to sharpen your own saw?
Ken Lear: I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that how you feel will determine how you do. If I don’t eat well and exercise, it’s interesting how everything follows suit. The same goes for spending time with my wife and kids. I sit in the sauna every day for about ten minutes after I work out — what I try to do is get centered in my mind and be grateful for my life and my family and my business. The whole goal is to notice what I am grateful for and so I try to notice what is going on around me.
I also have a coach and mentor of my own. He’s a self-made millionaire who started a toy company out of his dorm room when he was in his 20s. I talk to him every Thursday at 1:30 and he helps me align my strategy with what I want to accomplish. He’s a great business mind — he’s very good at organizing thoughts and he’s a true coach. He keeps me accountable and I get excited about talking to him. He’s become a good friend of mine now.
Q: Speaking of setting priorities, how do you plan your week?
Ken Lear: Every Sunday I go through the same routine of planning my week. First, I get ice cream, a notepad, and a pen. Then I go to a quiet place. I think through my entire week and jot down what I need to do that’s most important. I also think about what I didn’t finish from the previous week. I schedule everything on the Calendar app on my Mac – everything is color coded. The green category contains personal activities to sharpen the saw — daily workouts at 8 am, soccer on Sundays, family night on Wednesdays, and breakfast with my wife on Friday mornings. The purple is meetings — pow wows with leaders in my office on weekday mornings, breakfasts with new hires, interviews, calls with clients. One expression I heard from a mentor that rings true with me is “show people you care by how much you prepare.” I really do my best to think through each conversation before I go into it — I want to have an idea of what I want the result of each meeting to be. Monday nights are spent with the top players in my office and Thursday nights get-togethers with the whole team. Tuesday nights are crew nights at the same exact place each week. Once the week starts I don’t have to think. I just do what my calendar says.
Q: What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
Ken Lear: I’m a hopeless romantic. I had always dreamed of spoiling my wife when I found her. For Sara, I’ve learned, it’s not about jewelry or nice cars — she’s into time and travel and doing things together. When I decided to get married I read the book The Five Love Languages and realized I was using the wrong language. I cared so much about her that I read the book and changed my language.
With the tragedy I have seen in my life with both my parents passing from cancer, I tear up often when I feel like someone shows passion toward achieving something to make their family proud.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Ken Lear: Beach house, laptop, inspiring the masses to dream, and creating new opportunities to build an empire. On the personal side being the dad who has enough freedom to see my kids play sports whenever their games are.