Nancy Parsons is an expert in leadership development, talent management, human resources, and assessments. She is the president & CEO of CDR Assessment Group, Inc. (CDR), which she co-founded with Kimberly (Brinkmeyer) Leveridge, Ph.D. In 1998. Together, they developed the break-through CDR 3-Dimensional Assessment Suite®, an ideal coaching tool which has been translated into five languages for global clients. The CDR 3-D Suite measures leadership character traits, inherent risk factors for derailment, and drivers and rewards.
Nancy provides executive coaching for the C-suite and leaders across all sectors, facilitates strategic executive team development, and instructs “Authentic Leadership” workshops. She designed and continues to instruct the CDR Executive Coaches’ Certification Workshops for internal and external consultants. Nancy has authored more than 30 articles, and has presented at international, national, and regional industry conferences.
Previous to forming CDR, Nancy served as corporate HR director for Sun Pipe Line Company. She served also served in HR roles at Cordero Mining Company in Wyoming and Sun Ship, Inc. formerly in Chester, PA. She also served at Williams Energy in Tulsa as a Sr. OD Consultant prior to forming CDR. In 2013, Nancy became a member of The Alexcel Group, an elite international alliance of executive coaches and leadership development experts and serves on select projects with CoachSource.
Nancy is married to William C. Parsons, MD, who serves as the chief medical officer for Phillips 66, and they have four grown children who all have launched successful careers. Three are married and they have one granddaughter born in 2014. For fun, Nancy enjoys her three spoiled rotten dogs (two King Charles Cavaliers and an American Water Spaniel), painting and mixed media creations, Jazzercise, entertaining friends and family, water volleyball, cooking, and supporting the Philadelphia Eagles (meanwhile, her husband is a Dallas Cowboys fan).
Tell me about your early career.
While I was ranked fifth in my high school graduating class of over 430 students outside of Philadelphia and I was a top student athlete, I did not go directly to college. At that time, no one in my family had ever attended college. I started as a corporate legal secretary before being hired at Sun Ship, Inc. for an administrative position in their purchasing department in Chester, PA. After a month of crossing union picket lines to get to work, I was promoted to an HR position in 1979 at the shipyard. In 1982, I was promoted to Sun’s coal mine, Cordero Mining Co., in Gillette, WY then to Sun Pipeline as an HR manager in Tulsa in 1986. By 1989, I was promoted to director of HR for a 13-State area. I attended evening classes to eventually earn my BA in Management in 1986 from Eckerd College. I also organized activities that brought the Florida-based university to Gillette, WY.
When I served as HR director at Sun Pipe Line Company, I was responsible for talent development and performance management along with labor relations and other HR generalist responsibilities. Back in the late 80s, I developed and introduced 360 instruments to our executive team and realized that leadership and organization development was my passion. After leaving Sun in 1991, I became a consultant, certified in teaching coaching skills for leaders, and designed various training and coaching initiatives. I was personally mentored by Robert Hogan, Ph.D. in the mid-90s to use personality and motivational assessments.
In 1998, Kimberly Leveridge, Ph.D. and I formed CDR Assessment Group, Inc. with our mission to “revolutionize leadership” with our new assessment tools. We are still on that quest and our assessments and services are used by global organizations in every industry. Our tools are available in five languages today.
How did the concept for CDR Assessment Group come about?
My business partner and I knew that we could develop and launch new assessment tools that focused exclusively on developing leaders, and we thought we could design those that were better than what was available on the market. So, that is what we did. Leadership then, and today, is largely broken when you look at the performance data. It is our mission to fix those lackluster performance results. This is the topic of my upcoming book, Unvarnished Leadership.
How was the first year in business?
The first year in business was really tough. Making payroll, rent, etc. was difficult while developing new products and finding new clients. Fortunately, at that time, I went without pay but could afford to do so as my spouse was making a good income. Just know that money is often tight during that first year or two!
Also, we opened our business on October 5, 1998, which was a Thursday. The following Monday evening, I got a call from Kim saying she couldn’t work for a bit. While at step aerobics, she had fallen backwards and had broken both wrists. One was pretty severe. We managed through this and still produced our CDR character assessment and CDR risk assessment in 1998, followed in early 1999 by our CDR drivers & rewards.
What was your marketing strategy?
Our marketing strategy was insufficient to be perfectly honest. We sold by networking, word of mouth, and due to past customers and people who knew us. We did the brochures, websites, trade shows, speaking, writing, etc. but our marketing budget was really too slim and we never hired a sales person. This was a big mistake. Over the last few years, we have worked hard to implement a much more effective marketing strategy.
If I have any advice for entrepreneurs, it is to focus as much or more on your marketing and sales strategy as you do on your products and services.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We grew at a reasonable pace and were both working moms. We were generally doing okay, but not great. We operated, what I think was, too risk aversive financially and should have focused on financing our growth strategy better.
Our new product development, research, client services, projects, writing, etc. were all top notch, but we just lagged in growth.
How do you define success?
I define success by our ability to reach and develop more leaders, professionals, veterans, and others to gain a deep appreciation for their own talent, gifts, needs, and vulnerabilities. We are able to help clients bring their self-awareness to new levels. I want to continue this service exponentially, even when I step aside.
What is the key to success?
“Energy, tenacity, resilience, loving the work you do, and in my business, finding deep reward in helping others.” We started with this quote and use it to this day.
“The greatest good you can do for another is not to share your riches but to reveal to him, or her, their own.” – Benjamin Desraeli (edited by CDR for gender clarity)
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Hire and contract with smart, trustworthy and highly-driven people. You want people who enjoy working and who have a fire in their belly. Getting the right people is the most important thing you need to do. We have suffered significantly when we strayed off course on this.
What are some of your favorite books?
My favorite two books are The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni and Good to Great by Jim Collins. The Advantage is a must read for entrepreneurs. Also, Winning at Entrepreneurship by Rod Robertson is a handbook for startups I recommend as well. In fact, I wrote the third chapter, “Assessing Your Entrepreneurial Profile”.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The toughest time in our business was back in 1999 when we had to file a federal lawsuit to protect our intellectual property and save our business. Fortunately, we prevailed but a year of litigation for a new business was nothing short of awful. In the end, it made me physically ill and it was my oldest daughter’s senior year in high school.
Important lesson learned: make sure you file your copyrights, trademarks, etc. properly, as this saved our business. Do what it takes to protect your intellectual property and do not cut corners on this. If your written materials are not certified with the Office of Copyrights (US Government), you cannot recover damages. Fortunately, I had learned this in an entrepreneurial class I took years before we started CDR.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Knowing that we are doing truly great work in helping people in ways no one else is – the depth of our assessments to this day are unmatched. I have always been too achievement-driven in a sense, and when you really love what you do, it is hard to pull back. When faced with adversity, I suck it up and try to learn from it. Previous to the last five years or so, I took setbacks harder. Frankly, I am so accustomed to them that I rarely let them discourage me —at least not for long. My mother used to always say quotes like, “It’s always darkest before the dawn” and I have found this to be true. Also, I believe that God has blessed me in so many ways and this gives me strength to push through tough times or disappointments because while we may not always be having the reach or success I would like, we are helping leaders, veterans, and others, every day.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Find the right people. Be sure to have a strong marketing and sales plan. Do not skimp on this! Find help, experts, classes, and books to learn. Build a solid business plan.
By the way, one other thing that I really love about having my own business is that I am constantly learning. I mean every day. It is awesome. I also enjoy the creative space my business allows me. Last, I couldn’t be happier with the people I work with. Our executive coaches and customers are pretty incredible too. Some have been with us since 1999 – all of these relationships matter and help this job be one that I just wouldn’t trade. Now, I still need to improve the marketing and sales strategy and am on that quest now. I also need to work on, instead of working in, the business!
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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