Rich Lyons – Founder, President & CEO, Lyons Consulting Group

Rich is founder, president and CEO of Lyons Consulting Group, the industry’s premier eCommerce digital agency, serving brands, retailers, and B2B organizations with tailored solutions that maximize their online potential. Rich is responsible for leading the company’s strategy and vision, as well as working closely with customers, including Tourneau, Allen Edmonds, GoPro, Patagonia, and many more. He brings more than ten years of experience in IT consulting, and over seventeen years of experience in business development.

Prior to founding LYONSCG, Rich served as Vice President of Sales for Divine, Inc. in Chicago, responsible for the largest and most profitable professional services region in the firm, generating over $40 million annually. He served in that same role as part of marchFIRST and Whittman-Hart.

Rich graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BSEE from the University of Michigan and holds a M.B.A. from Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

Tell me about your early career.
I graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. I came to Chicago to work as a consultant, as I could not bear being an engineer – too boring! I decided to get my M.B.A. after a few years, and attended Kellogg GSM at Northwestern University. I went full-time from 1990 to 1992, and then took a role as the Director of Sales & Marketing for a small manufacturing firm, trying to round out my skills. I then decided what I really needed was sales skills, so I decided to carry a bag and take a direct sales role with Whittman-Hart. I started there in 1995, we went public in 1996, and were a great success story. Then, we purchased USWeb/CKS, became marchFIRST, a $1 billion company, and went bankrupt in one year. We were bought out of bankruptcy by Divine, and I headed up the largest and most successful sales team. Divine acquired many companies and became a $1 billion company, overextended, and went bankrupt. So, I found myself out of a job. That’s when I started LYONSCG.

How did the concept for LYONSCG come about?
I was out of work for the first time, and was looking for my next role. Everyone I talked to wanted me to start a Chicago office for them, without any equity. I knew a lot of people, and a lot of consultants after the bankruptcy of Divine, so I started placing consultants and meeting clients’ needs. This evolved into eCommerce, as we followed the direction of the market.

How was the first year in business?
The first year of business was a challenge and very stressful. Getting going is never easy, and even though I went to Kellogg, I was not taught about cashflow. Even though things looked good on paper, I had to take a home equity loan and write checks to make payroll, and I was not getting paid.

What was your marketing strategy?
Initially, the marketing strategy was to network like crazy, and call everyone we knew. With the back-to-back bankruptcies of marchFIRST and divine, lots of clients had IT needs. Everything was work of mouth, initially. As we grew, we started to attend trade shows and industry events.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Our real growth didn’t start until after the bank crash of 2007/2008. We were forced to focus, and decided to drop the IT services we were doing and go all in with eCommerce. This changed everything. We hired a senior CFO/COO, and did a three year plan that we followed and never looked back.

How do you define success?
I define success holistically, in all areas of life. Success to me is not just financial, but it includes abundance in all areas. Success includes my marriage, and being a good father and a good friend. I run a company based on values and principles, and we would never sacrifice our values and principles for financial success. We are committed to our clients’ satisfaction and success first and foremost, and we do the right thing.

What is the key to success?
Focus. Doing eCommerce well and being the best at this one thing, and always being customer-focused. We put ourselves in our customers’ shoes, and develop our processes with the customer in mind.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Do the right thing, no matter what. Integrity and trust are the keys to my business, and can be lost but are very hard to reestablish. We give our clients a satisfaction guarantee. One of my customers was having a hard time, and asked for all their money back at the end of the project – pulled the plug. One of the hardest things I ever did was write a check for $60,000 and overnight it. It was also was one of the most important things..

What are some quotes that you live by?
Jim Collins – “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline…Winners shine when clobbered by setbacks and misfortune, turning bad luck into good results. They use difficulty as a catalyst to deepen purpose, recommit to values, increase discipline, respond with creativity – translating fear into extensive preparation, and calm, clearheaded action. Resilience, not luck, is the signature of greatness.”

Peter Senge says that, “The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.” Senge continues by saying that, “Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Good to Great and Built to Last – having a BHAG was very important from the beginning. The Fifth Discipline – our culture is that of a learning organization.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Sending the check back to the client. I thought we were done.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
The desire and commitment to be successful. Burn the canoes. I can never look back, and I can never allow fear or doubt to impact my confidence and passion and belief, or control me.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Make sure you are passionate about what you are doing. Make sure you believe in it, and that it serves your customers. You must have unconflicted consciousness. Build trust and build a brand that is trusted.

This interview was conducted for research purposes by Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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