Frank Britt – CEO, Penn Foster

Frank Britt is the CEO of Penn Foster, a leading career-focused online and hybrid education institution that supports over 100,000 active students and 1,000 institutions nationwide. His mission is to create a national movement to better connect education, career pathways, and job creation, and to promote debt-free and affordable learning. Frank currently serves as an operating advisor at Bain Capital Ventures, and prior to joining Penn Foster, he was CEO of Pri-Med, the largest primary care-focused medical education and media company in the world. He brings 20 years of experience in growing companies in the education, media, technology, industrial, and consumer goods industries, including a variety of senior-level positions at IBM and Accenture.

1. How do you define success?
1) Finding something you have passion for so you can use that energy to make a real difference and generate a solid income for you and your family, 2) being in a position that allows you to maximize personal growth and to use that role to help elevate and enable success in others, 3) building a personal brand (reputation) that stands for high performance, and 4) being an outstanding person.

2. What is the key to success?
1) The five people you spend the most time with will disproportionately impact who you become. Always be mindful of who you surround yourself with as these people will shape you and ideally enable you to be even better.

2) I feel strongly that you have to embrace the idea of putting yourself in situations where you have vulnerability and risk in order to truly grow. The fearless person is well-aware of that reality and it becomes a compass, not an obstacle. If you accept that life is a journey, you should assume it will often be hard. This is how you build grit and resiliency into your life management skill-set, which you will need over time as your scope of personal and professional responsibilities expands. If you dedicate yourself to the process of pushing your boundaries consistently, you will evolve as a person and generally have a more fulfilled life.

3) You have the power to choose to be happy. Making that deliberate decision each day will change what happens. Yes, you get to decide the weather at your life picnic most of the time, and thus happiness is almost always about creating options, rather than a byproduct of what actually occurs.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
As you go through life, your concept of success changes a lot. Depending on your influences, you often start with a narrower notion of what is possible. In my case, I honestly never really thought about it; I just assumed that if I plowed ahead and was purposeful, I would become the best version of myself professionally and personally, as a manager, husband, father, and citizen. I remain a work-in-process.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I have seen that perseverance is generally the difference between the ordinary and extraordinary people. Learn to see the obstacles as joy, not pain, and by doing so, the harder parts of life that help you grow become privileges rather than burdens. This is hard to do, but comes with the territory of taking on big challenges. This will build grit, an essential element for success and a term often used, but not always understood. In practical terms, it means to build firmness of character and cultivate a spirit such that when confronted with the inevitable obstacles of life, you can persevere. With this mindset, I try to frame most things I am doing as either learning or training, whether good or bad, and with this approach, there is always value created. Regardless of the actual outcome and difficulty, I always end up growing throughout the process.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Many people think about their five- or 10-year plans. I learned long ago to set goals in shorter intervals, such as three-, 12-, and 24-month horizons. Additionally, at the start of every year, rather than make a New Year’s resolution which we often abandon along the way, I choose three words to focus my goals and efforts for the year. Each day, I seek to calibrate my experience and objectives against these imperatives which helps me set priorities, stay grounded, and make sense of the turbulence often involved in navigating a high-performance life.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I enjoy spending time with my wife and three kids, giving back to the community, and lots and lots of reading. Fitness and brain functioning are also highly linked, and I use ice hockey to physically challenge myself multiple times per week.

7. What makes a great leader?
Pericles once said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in mountains, but what is woven into the lives of others.” This fundamental insight is recognized by many and has been a guidepost for the most successful people I have encountered in my life. These special people make a priority to focus on helping others succeed, and recognize that everyone shines given the right lighting. In fact, even Giorgio Armani, the famous designer, once said that, “Elegance is not about being noticed, it’s about being remembered.” Making a lasting difference in whatever you do should be the goal, and that is mostly about helping to augment the destinies of others. Help other people build wings for their own lives, and that will end up transforming you.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Success and happiness are not a matter of destiny, but a matter of creating options. It is a choice you make each day when you open your eyes, and that single decision will drive much of your life in both direct and indirect ways. It is far more than a state of mind; instead, it is a skill to be learned and practiced. Every single moment, you are writing your life story, the sum total of your choices, and as the author you get to define the narrative. Finally, once you have a job, regardless of the role or the company, make an earnest attempt to learn how it makes money. All sustainable businesses have a so-called profit formula, and even at a high level, you should understand how it works, why it works, and how your area fits into the master formula. This insight will expand your understanding, and likely help you better make the trade-offs in most roles, and maybe as the CEO yourself someday.

This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.

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