David Hernandez, Head of U.S. Operations, Elecosoft
David Hernandez is the Head of U.S. Operations for Elecosoft. In this interview with The Industry Leaders, he shares his top advice for business professionals, including the 3 things he wishes he'd known when starting out.
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
My management journey began working retail. I was promoted quickly into management, which was certainly baptism by fire. I was very young and was definitely more of a “manager” than a leader. I thought my job was to tell people what to do and learned that is the quickest way to lose your team’s trust and hurt morale.
I moved into sales after I realized I was not a fan of the retail hours, weekends, holidays, and six-day work weeks. I started my sales journey working for YellowBook USA. They put you through a three-week sales boot camp that stressed the sales process over and over. I loved it, since I realized in sales I controlled my income, I was not confined to an office, and I met new people every day. Hard work was already part of my DNA, so I saw instant success and consistently was in the top tier of performers across the company.
This path opened doors for my role at The BlueBook – basically, Yellow Pages for the commercial construction industry. Working with this audience, I learned so many new things about construction and would always dig into processes and why companies were doing certain things. Many of my clients would invite me to project sites where the real learning took place.
Through The BlueBook, I was introduced to Javier Santos, who became a customer of mine. Eventually we would become business partners in his construction company, which was primarily involved in residential construction. Given the connections I had formed at The Bluebook, we focused our growth on commercial construction, and grew the business rather quickly. It was one of the best moves for me, as it allowed me to build my construction acumen but also sharpen my leadership skills - growing a business, handling client negotiations, and many more skill sets that I use to this day.
My background in sales and construction opened a door for me in the construction technology sector with Viewpoint. I was worried because I didn’t know much about the product, but what I did know about were the pain points construction companies go through on a daily basis, because I had been in their shoes. So I would simply start a conversation around what they were doing, and without really knowing it, we would end up having a pretty good discovery sales call, simply because I was curious about their business and was sincere about trying to help them.
Was any one person who was instrumental in helping you get from where you started out, to where you are now?
The most obvious answer for me is my parents. I watched how hard they worked, day in and day out. This gave me a great work ethic from a very young age; as far back as I can remember I always had some type of job. This has provided the foundational piece of my career journey – success is earned, not given.
Outside of my parents, there were numerous strong leaders who contributed to my success; it’s virtually impossible to narrow it down to one. Lisa Ireland, my Area Director at the Blue Book, taught me how a leader practices selflessness and always puts their team first. Matt Wendling from Viewpoint, the one who got me into construction technology in the first place, showed me a leader that genuinely cared about the growth and success of his team, even if that meant they left for opportunities outside of Viewpoint.
My current CEO, Jonathan Hunter, has demonstrated how to put people into their optimal position, present them with a clear vision and strategy, allow their voices to be heard, and let them contribute. He has really helped me develop a more strategic, “big picture” mindset. This was key, because as a global company it is easy to get stuck working in a silo mindset; His mentorship has helped me focus on being collaborative across our entire organization.
While singling out these people for a special mention, I believe we are the product of everyone who has been involved in our lives, both personally and professionally.
Is there a particular piece of advice you were given in the early days of your business journey that you still benefit from today?
The best advice I received was to be “intentionally curious” – always be willing to learn from others. Sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone and ask questions, but it’s important to ask questions with intentional curiosity and active listening.
For me it opened up the mindset of “you can learn something from anyone.” Being intentionally curious takes it a step further. If you ask enough questions, you're going to learn things. If you exhibit genuine, intentional curiosity, that learning will reach a deeper level – you’ll understand not just what people do but why they do them. Even if it's not directly related to your industry, your knowledge base will start to grow, and you will become a sought-after source of information – and inspiration - on a variety of subjects.
What is the most important lesson you've learned about leadership in your business journey so far?
Leadership requires a selfless attitude. I have worked for and with some great leaders and there are so many valuable things I have learned, but I would put this one at the top.
Leadership doesn’t mean that you are the boss, nor does it mean you manage everything. Actually, the best leaders are great at delegation. Our core responsibility is hiring and placing team members in the best position to succeed and providing clear direction, encouragement, and coaching.
You are not in a position of leadership to bark orders; I learned that hard lesson early in my career. The best leaders are also great communicators who deliver a clear vision and overall business strategy for their team. You set the tone with enthusiasm and you are the first one out front, rolling up your sleeves, removing roadblocks, and eliminating obstacles that your team will face. And you do it most of the time without them even knowing there was anything in the way.
I want my team to know I am their shield, defending them from negative noise and distractions that take us away from our goal, ultimately setting them up to win. If I can do those things, it creates an environment that allows the team to perform at the highest level. This allows us all to succeed, and success breeds success.
What are the top three things you wish you'd known when you were just starting out?
Here are the top three things I wish I'd known when I was just starting out:
Focus on what you can control. Worrying about external things that you have no control over is an absolute waste of time. It’s often easier said than done, but the energy you put into worrying about things over which you have no power can be put to better use somewhere else.
Respond, don’t react. Learn to pause and reflect before you deal with something regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. Mark Chapman, our Head of Innovation, said it best: “Respond, don't react.” Remove the emotion from a scenario and ask yourself, “Is my response going to escalate this situation or is it going to defuse and/or solve it? Do I even need to respond to this? And do I respond via email, text, phone, or in person? What’s my best move here?”
Be intentionally curious. Learn, learn, learn. Surround yourself with people who are not only going to bring expertise to their job but who want to teach as well as learn. And when they’re in teaching mode, they will sometimes have to be brutally honest and open, so bring in people who aren’t afraid to challenge the boss.
In your experience, what is the most effective way to build a strong network of mentors and advisors to guide you in your business endeavors?
Of course, there are the proven methods, like joining LinkedIn or various professional organizations. You will inevitably find people you can learn from who can also learn from you. But it also involves going outside your comfort zone; i.e., looking outside your industry or profession. For example, my comfort area is construction. But I'm also involved with construction technology, so it would probably be a sound idea to connect with professionals in that area as well.
But let’s take it a step further. Maybe I connect with someone who understands public relations. They might be able to teach me how it can help me improve my business, and I can give them the benefit of my expertise in leadership and management.
In the end, I identify my areas of weaknesses and try to connect with professionals who can help fill in those gaps. But at the same time, I want to be able to provide each person with value as well. It’s perfectly fine to seek out mentors and advisors within your market segment, but going outside your industry can help truly expand your knowledge base beyond anything you expected.
How do you determine when it's time to pivot, and what factors should you consider in making that decision?
“If the plan fails, change the plan, but never the goal.” The goal should always be your main driver. I am constantly evaluating our plans, always making sure that the direction in which we’re going aligns with the goal.
It's similar to taking a trip; the destination is still the destination. But if you run into a roadblock, you don't just turn around and go home; you find a different path. It's the same thing in business: if you encounter an obstacle or challenge, you have to be willing to find an alternate route. And that route needs to be one that will lead you to where you want to go.
Truthfully, there doesn’t always have to be a roadblock to persuade you to pivot. The way you're going may be perfectly fine, but you might discover there’s a better route that will get you to your destination faster, perhaps without utilizing so many resources. As a result, I believe you should always be pivoting - or be prepared to do so. It’s not always about preventing a negative outcome; sometimes it’s about achieving success just a little bit faster.
One piece of advice: if you do pivot, be ok with failure, but fail quickly – or at least recognize early on that failure is imminent. It will help you avoid throwing good time and resources at a plan that has no chance of success.
How do you stay motivated and inspired during the business cycle of ups and downs?
To be honest, I think it's easier to stay motivated when things are down because for me, that's a challenge. I happen to love challenges; it’s too easy to grow stagnant when things are going well.
But aside from that, it’s important to stay on an even keel, and that begins with what I said early on: control what you can control and don’t fret about the rest. So the first thing I'm going to do is look at the areas that are in my control, regardless of whether they’re positive or negative. I focus on maintaining a positive attitude; no matter how bad things might look, I remind myself that this isn’t the end of the world, and things could be much worse. Despite how bad or good things are going, I keep making sure that we're constantly pushing towards the goal line.
It's worth noting that keeping on an even keel is not just for your own benefit, it’s for the benefit of your team as well. As a leader, if you’re super high or super low, that could negatively affect your team. If it affects your team even the slightest bit, you’re automatically making them less productive.
I compare it to being a parent. Our job is to protect our children. You may be worried about the mortgage or the utility bills or getting your car repaired, but your children should only have to think about being kids. It’s my job to make sure that my team has that same sort of bubble around them.
Looking back, what one thing would you do differently if you could start your journey over again?
That’s a difficult question, because I believe everything I’ve done in my life, personally and professionally, has brought me to the spot where I find myself today. All the successes and failures, all the savvy moves and mistakes, have all combined to put me exactly where I am right now, which is a very good place. If I were to change anything, it might prove beneficial in the short-term, but who knows the kind of long-term ripple effect it would have? Maybe it would land me somewhere I’d rather not be.
Having said that, if I could go back and change anything, I would probably try to enjoy myself a little more. Early in my career, I was always stressed, especially in sales due to a highly competitive personality. All I could think of was, “I’ve got to hit my quota, I’m not doing enough, someone is outperforming me.” I am still very competitive, and I still love to win, I have just directed that focus more into others and find a lot of joy in helping others crush their goals. I would just try to enjoy the ride a little more – maybe go back and tell myself, “You’ve gotten great training and you're working hard, so you’re going to be successful. Try worrying less and have more fun.”