Bruce Lyman on How To Bounce Back Stronger in Business
Bruce Lyman is CEO of Parabilis and knows what it takes to face challenges in business and bounce back stronger. He took some time out to share their insights with The Industry Leaders.
Can you start by telling us a bit about your journey as an entrepreneur, focusing particularly on your experiences with setbacks and challenges? How has this shaped your understanding and mastery of resilience in business?
My entrepreneurial energy and spirit started all the way back in college. I was part of a team that started a federally-backed credit union, before joining the U.S. military.
After nine years in the Air Force, I got out but chose to stay in the Reserves. I spent a couple years building an IT company, and built it to employ a couple hundred people. However, as a reservist, I got picked up to do a lot of work for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I had to make a choice where to put my energy, and I put most of my energy into the war. While I was away, my company struggled and eventually fell apart. We didn't have enough contract backlog, so we lost a couple contracts and I chose to stick with my military duty for a while.
When I got out of the military, I came to this company I'm at now, Parabilis, and helped it grow. A lot of those lessons from building my IT company and managing it down to zero have proven to be invaluable in my efforts now. When you look at leadership, whether you're doing something in a business, entrepreneurial, government or military space, it's really all the same. You're doing something disruptive in the marketplace, creating something new, trying to figure out how to scale, and managing how to make sure you stay true to what you started it for. The hardest part when you're growing a company is running into roadblocks. There will be tough times, but you have to remind yourself that giving up isn’t an option. You can always find a way.
In the world of entrepreneurship, failure is often seen as a stepping stone rather than a dead-end. How do you perceive failure, and can you share an instance where a failure led to an unexpected growth or success in your business?
When our team started Parabilis, there were only a couple of us. We had to figure out how to do new things in a new market. When we hit roadblocks, the leadership team and myself looked at it as a way to restructure the future to avoid those specific pitfalls again. Moments like that were never looked at as failures but as fantastic lessons. Some of the early challenges we had at Parabilis were the best things that ever happened to us. They helped our team learn what not to do (very rapidly), and we forced ourselves to learn the right way to do things while scaling a company. Failure is all about how you look at it. If you look at struggles as adventures you can personally and professionally grow from, then you'll be successful along the way, even through tough times. Some of that resilience, for me, and this will be true with any veteran that has seen any level of combat, is that you get to a place where your life's been at risk many times. When you come back to the industry, it's just a different level of stress.
What strategies have you employed to cultivate a culture of resilience within your organization? How have these strategies made your team more adaptable and innovative, especially during trying times?
Culture comes from the top and resonates throughout the organization, so, it’s really all about how the leader or management team handles what would be perceived as a crisis. It sets the tone for your organization, which is why leading through example is so important. The number one thing for me is, it's not all about me. It's all about the team.
If it's only you, you become the limiting factor of your company. All the successes that I've had and the massive growth I’ve experienced with Parabilis over the last several years is because we were able to attract some really wonderful, incredible people and empower them to grow it.
At the end of the day, It's not about me or the other leaders at all. It's about creating an environment where our team can be successful.
You've spoken about bouncing back from failure, but I'm curious to know if there is a methodology you follow to analyze what went wrong and how to correct it. Could you describe your process for assessing and learning from mistakes?
The first thing is to take the emotion out of your failures, otherwise, you won't be able to see the situation clearly. Then, have others come in and help you look at the issue to determine what happened and figure out what to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Look at the facts.
You also want to create a culture where, big or small, success or challenge, you take a hard look at things. Create a culture of reviewing, peer reviewing, and personal reviewing. Make sure the team understands how to reach the shared mission. Ask, what optimizes the company and optimizes our ability to serve our clients?
Many entrepreneurs fear failure to the point that it paralyzes them. How do you balance taking calculated risks with the fear of failure? What advice would you offer to other entrepreneurs who struggle with this?
Any time you take a risk you have to pay attention to all the variables. In our case, that’s the lending market, the individual, and the actual loans we're making. If you get to a point where you’re so afraid to act that it freezes you, you’re either in the wrong market, you're doing something too risky, or you're going to struggle with being an entrepreneur. Some entrepreneurs take crazy high risks and they shouldn't. You have to be able to manage that flow.
At Parabilis, we’re not risk averse, but we're also not massive risk takers. We manage risk through our expertise, making sure that we really understand the market we’re in. Once you understand that and the landscape around you, you can be comfortable with what kind of risks you're taking.
Sometimes, resilience requires knowing when to pivot or even walk away from an idea. How do you recognize the difference between a challenge that requires persistence and a situation that necessitates a change in direction?
If you have great depth in the area you're in, you'll see trends on where the market is going, and you'll start to see when an idea needs to be abandoned. This happens when you have true depth in the marketplace and really understand what you're doing. It’s important to pay a lot of attention to where the market's been, where it's going, and what the trends are. I believe deep expertise in your market, along with an entrepreneurial spirit, will make those decisions very easy.
The global economic landscape is always changing, and recent years have seen some extraordinary disruptions. How have you adapted your business to overcome unexpected global challenges? What were the key factors in your successful navigation of these waters?
This goes back to knowing what you're trying to accomplish and what your core purpose is. At Parabilis, our purpose is to help our clients be successful. We want to help small-to-medium sized government contractors get the financing they need to be successful. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and some of our clients faced challenges, we focused very much on our core business. Lending dropped significantly and the government flooded the market with money to protect people in the COVID environment. When our economics shifted, our markets shifted. We were able to navigate through that time with our clients and stay profitable. Parabilis didn't grow as fast as we wanted it to grow during that time, but we stayed true to our ethos. Our team continued to make sure the marketplace knew we existed, and we stayed in line with what we started the company for. Now that government contracting is coming back, our company is expanding rapidly because our clients know we stay true to them.
Resilience in the face of failure is often linked to personal growth as well. How have your business experiences shaped you personally? Can you share a moment where your professional resilience translated into a personal transformation?
The challenges I faced with my first company and having to spin that down because I was supporting the wars was a huge challenge for me personally, and I grew dramatically. I believe it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I became a much better person and a much better businessman. I had very small children at the time and I’m a better father because of it. I grew personally and understood what my priorities were, realizing my family is the most important thing.
I shifted my priorities when I spun that company down and pivoted my energy to the wars. Going to Afghanistan and Iraq led to a lot of personal growth for me. You're out there risking your life and seeing people risk their lives every day while being exposed to some of the darkest parts of humanity in combat. I would not be able to do what I'm doing today without having those experiences in my past. The only reason I'm here is because I've had challenges that some people might not have decided to go through because they were hard, but they were fantastic for me. They helped me become the person and leader I am today.