An interview with CEO advisory guru Adam E. Coffey
Divine Purpose Podcast Season 2 Episode 7
I hope you like your caffeinated beverages strong because this interview will pump you up like a triple shot Americano. We all have bucket lists in life, but how many of us can say we’ve actually checked off most of the boxes?
Consultant, best-selling author, pilot, and self-identified “blue collar CEO” Adam E. Coffey can.
Though as he’ll tell you “My best accomplishment hasn’t been achieved yet.”
He believes the best is yet to come. And after listening to this interview, you’ll feel the same. We certainly do here at the Divine Purpose Podcast.
35 years in management, 21 years as a CEO working for multiple companies. Adam has bought 58 businesses in his lifetime and now works as a consultant helping small businesses build their future empires, monetize them, and one day sell them off if they so desire. So far he’s worked with 60 companies in the past 18 months of consulting.
And with a 98 percent retention rate, he’s clearly doing a good job of pleasing his clients. The 2 percent who left did so after he made them rich enough to retire. That’s a 2 percent loss anyone can live with.
Adam truly has done it all. Military man, truck driver, engineer, boss, writer, teacher. He’s held every job there is and worked his way up the ladder. Each job gave him the experience and confidence for the next one.
“You fail, you try again.” Adam believes both success and failure are opportunities to learn. And learn you will after watching this interview.
“We all have to work somewhere, let’s work somewhere cool.”
Here at the Divine Purpose Podcast we like to start each blog with a brief introduction to the industry our guest comes from.
But it’s difficult to do so with this one since Adam Coffey has a background in so many different industries.
He worked as an executive in the healthcare division of General Electric.
He worked in private equity as the President and COO of Masterplan.
He worked in HVAC as the founder and CEO of CoolSys.
He was CEO of Wash Multifamily Laundry Services.
Adam will be the first to say that “laundry isn’t sexy.” But being the CEO of Wash Multifamily Laundry Services – just like all of his other leadership roles – gave him the chance to do what he does best in the corporate world. Lead a company to success and create a work culture that brings success for all. Not just the shareholders.
Now he’s taking that expertise and using it to build the next generation of industry leaders with his consulting business CEO Advisory Guru, LLC. He tells us there are 33 million small businesses in the US. And lots of them need help.
We’ll dig deeper into his particular style of leadership when we explore his tips for getting to CEO level. But right now let’s take a look at what made him who is.
“I looked up and I saw bubble gum on the bottom of somebody else’s shoe, that’s how low I started.”
Born in 1968, Adam was the youngest boy in a big family. Raised in the suburbs of Detroit in the late 60s – what he described as “a Leave it To Beaver time.”
He attributes his work ethic to his parents who were great Depression minded folks who instilled in him the need to work hard.
At age 12 he learned to fly a plane. Pretty standard childhood stuff, right?!
His uncle who owned a farm in Vermont had a 1937 Piper J-3 Cub. Since then he’s gone on to own 3 planes. And though he doesn’t presently have one, he admits to playfully threatening his wife that he’ll buy another one from time to time.
But back to his childhood.
An avid sports enthusiast, Adam played hockey and soccer while growing up and wanted to go into professional sports as an adult. Adam cites this as one of the ingredients to his success. He’ll tell you sports teaches you to be competitive and remain focused on the prize.
After finishing high school Adam enlisted in the army. The military taught him about camaraderie, discipline, and his own leadership style. The servant-leader.
As a private in the army, he worked with classified air defense radar and missile systems. This sparked his interest in electronics.
From there he went to work at General Electric and became an engineer during what he calls the company’s “Camelot era” when Jack Welch was at the helm. This turned him into a “meticulous planner.”
“All of these experiences in life are added up and create the collective person we become”
A self-identified “Lazy workaholic” Adam learned early on that work culture matters. How you treat your employees matters. Profit and a caring workplace aren’t in his words mutually exclusive. You can be a good boss and make money for shareholders. Creating a good work culture is what Adam has become known for.
Adam’s the type of boss who takes his job seriously without taking himself too seriously.
Being in charge isn’t always easy either. It comes with the weight of having to lead during difficult times, including ones of historic magnitude. He was a CEO during the Pandemic, the Great Recession, and 9/11.
During the pandemic he started a foundation that helped for his employees who had suffered from COVID. Being a man of faith, Adam knows that we are our brother’s keeper.
“To whom much is given much is required.”
Referencing Matthew 19:24 in the interview, Adam tells us it’s hard for a rich man to make his way to heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
When asked whom he’d like to interview most he says Jesus.
He tells us he learned how to inspire people by going to church and seeing how pastors were able to inspire the masses.
He also tells us he’s taken inspiration from political leaders. Keeping it bipartisan as to not offend, he name dropped both Reagan and Obama as charismatic leaders who knew how to command an audience. And it’s true. One gave us the city on the hill and the other gave us hope and change.
“Your product is people”
So now let’s take a look at what Adam has to say about leadership style and how to land the job as a CEO.
In his words, being a CEO is about “learning how to not be the smartest guy in the room, but learning how to hire the smartest guy in the room.”
The CEO’s role is to hire the best and let them have room to grow and do what they need to do.
You want to offer guidance. But you don’t want to be a helicopter CEO.
Build your team and then rely on them to do their job. Direct but don’t dictate.
You want your team to be diverse in thought and life experience.
For those who aspire to become CEOs one day, once you get the interview here’s what you need to do next.
Come with a plan along with a resume. Your resume is what gets you the interview. Your plan is what gets you the job.
It’s not about you and your accomplishments. It’s about what you can do to help the company. Your vision is what matters most. Articulate that vision.
Be prepared. Talk about growth, metrics, methodology, management systems, and key performance indicators. Tell the board what you’ll do in the first 90 days. And if you’ve already been a CEO, tell them about what you did in your last role.
Do your research. Do your homework. Ask questions. You’re going to go through multiple screening interviews. Learn from each one.
Own the room and wow them. Show them that you already ARE the CEO.
Public speaking is essential to the role. You need to be able to communicate and empower. You also need to be the voice of calm and reason, not the voice of polarization. Be mature, not reactive. Learn to “chill out more.”
Check your emotions and don’t be reactive.
Building a cool company culture is what always drove Adam. His passion for the journey and creating a company that gives back to its employees.
Give back to the community and to your workers. And do it with humility. Adam tells us he’s very quiet about the good he does. We like hearing that kind of attitude, especially in the age of social media influencers and reality TV where people don’t do good for the sake of doing good, but to be seen.
And this is how he tells us you create that cool company culture.
Number one: Pay a fair wage in order to keep your talent.
Number two. Give great benefits.
Number three. Give a good retirement plan.
Number four. Create a path of upward mobility.
Build an environment that helps its employees. Invest in your people. Build a company where people bring their friends and family members to work there as well. A company where people want to work until they retire.
When you get to that point you’ve arrived. Show your employees that you’re walking the talk.
After listening to this interview we’re left with only one question.
Adam, are you hiring?
If you’re feeling as inspired by Adam E. Coffey as we are here at the Divine Purpose Podcast, you can follow Adam on LinkedIn, find his books on Amazon, or checkout his website and follow his latest business venture CEO Advisory Guru, LLC.