Episode One… Amanda Sanchez: Leading with Passion & Curiosity

Meet Amanda Sanchez, the Fulfillment Director of TVF, which fulfills over 23,000 orders a year and ships around 20 million yards of fabric.

Amanda is passionate about living with curiosity, she’s fascinated by what automation can do for warehouse environments, and she’s a fast-casual foodie at heart.

In this episode of Empowered Owners, you’ll get to learn more about Amanda’s outlook on life and what pushes her to do better every day. Additionally, she and Chris dive into the topic of employee engagement, culture, and feedback, and how implementing these practices has led to a happier and more efficient workforce. And don’t miss the end where Emily Bopp, EV’s Chief of Staff, and Chris provide an update on what’s happening at Empowered Ventures.

You’ll learn:
• Why placing high importance on employee engagement and creating a positive work environment can lead to increased efficiency and collaboration between teams
• How mployee ownership can lead to a shift in management behavior
• How automation can help people in their jobs, not take them away

Check out the first episode wherever you listen to podcasts and view everything on @Empowered_Ventures on YouTube. Connect to the full transcript here or read it below the media links.


Episode One Transcript [Empowered Owners]

Chris Fredericks: Welcome to Empowered Owners, the podcast that takes you inside Empowered Ventures. I’m your host, Chris Fredericks. In each episode, I’ll have a discussion with one of our employees to discover and highlight their distinct personalities, perspectives, and skills, while also keeping you in the loop with exclusive news, updates on company performance, and a glimpse into the future plans of Empowered Ventures. This is an opportunity for me to learn more about our amazing employee owners and an opportunity for you to hear regularly from me and others from within Empowered Ventures. On this episode of Empowered Owners, I’m talking with Amanda Sanchez, TVF Fulfillment Director. As Fulfillment Director, Amanda oversees a team of around 20 people and two facilities with a combined 200,000 square feet that fulfill over 23, 000 orders a year and ship around 20 million yards of fabric. Before joining TVF in 2010, Armanda had a background in billing and retail management. Prior to her current role, she excelled as a sales assistant and then as an operations manager. Armanda has been instrumental in numerous improvements to TVF’s fulfillment process, including various technology upgrades, streamlined processes, and personnel management approaches. Her special interests include spending time with friends and family. Amanda is especially proud of her nieces and she enjoys shopping, cooking, warm weather, and spending time boating, camping, and enjoying the great outdoors. In this conversation, we cover some really interesting topics, including Amanda’s early life and how it shaped her, her passion for living with curiosity and high energy and where that comes from, automation, especially in a warehousing environment, how she thinks about automation and the impact on workers, what she thinks about TVF’s culture and how it’s evolved since becoming employee owned and more. Without further ado, let’s get to the conversation. I did a little bit of research and I found that you oversee a team of 20, around 20 people, which is around 25% of TVF’s staff. Those people are in two main facilities and about 200, 000 square feet of combined space. You may not know this precisely, over 23,000 orders fulfilled in the last 12 months and 20 million yards units of fabric. Yeah, 20 million. That’s incredible. That’s amazing.

Amanda Sanchez: It is. Yeah. To think that our numbers are slightly down this year than what they were the prior year and there’s still that much volume going out, it’s pretty incredible.

Chris Fredericks: That’s incredible. So, my kickoff question is, when you were a little girl growing up, was this on your list of things that you might want to be when you grew up?

Amanda Sanchez: No. Well, I was growing up, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I just wanted to live life, enjoy the moment, and experience as much as I could.

Chris Fredericks: You didn’t have I’m going to be an astronaut or whatever.

Amanda Sanchez: No, I never thought that way.

Chris Fredericks: Interesting. Cool. But you’re saying you had a sense of enjoying life, that was your ambition as you were growing up.

Amanda Sanchez: Yeah.

Chris Fredericks: Interesting. Tell me more about that.

Amanda Sanchez: Well, I don’t know. I think life is too short and I experienced a lot of death as a child, so it just made me put things into perspective and try to be as positive. You just walk around in the grocery store and you smile and it’s so cool watching how many other people pop out of their element and smile back at you. Those are little things that I really appreciate.

Chris Fredericks: Wow. Yeah, because experiencing loss as a child, obviously really difficult, really, really difficult. How do think you developed that approach? Because maybe not all kids do, and I’m wondering if you’ve thought about that or if you have an idea of how that came about.

Amanda Sanchez: I honestly don’t know. I think I’m very fortunate to have… I refer to them as powers, right? Because it’s a very unique thing that not a lot of people can respond or know how to respond to. Even my siblings, there are seven kids in my family and they all responded in their different ways. They all coped differently with death. I don’t know. I think I was born with a cleft palate, so I couldn’t speak very well as a young child. I got made fun of a lot, elementary, middle school, even though high school. So, maybe that had something to do with it as well, just making me be a stronger person and let things roll off my back and not let it stick to me. Just knowing that people in general go through bullying and things like that, I think I wanted to put a different spin on it and make people smile and make them upset that they couldn’t make me cry.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, not let them win. Yeah. Well, that actually is a really amazing story. Thank you for sharing that. It definitely sheds light on you. You are a very energetic person with a lot of life. You bring a lot of life into whatever room you’re in. I’m curious about that in terms of you have an energy and a drive about you. I’ve almost thought about you as an energizer bunny in some ways, walking fast everywhere you go, getting stuff done. I think we may have almost run into each other in the office multiple times over the years. That’s helped you be, I think, pretty successful too, career- wise. That energy and that drive, have you found that that’s hindered you in any ways in life? Because I think it definitely has helped a lot, but I’m curious if you think it maybe even has been had any downsides.

Amanda Sanchez: Yeah, I think it has probably in my professional growth because I had goals to be further along at this point and I’m not. So, initially, I was upset that it’s like, ” Man, maybe because I’m too energetic and people don’t take me seriously.” I’ve done a lot of reflection on that over the last couple years and I realize I think I’m having the right impact where I’m at right now. So, I’m happy that I didn’t meet my goals because I don’t think that I could have as much of an influence and be able to work with people as closely as I still do today has that been the case.

Chris Fredericks: That’s great. Yeah, that sounds like a really mature approach to your ambition because your ambition is palpable and it’s awesome. It’s definitely been one of the things from my perspective that has stood out about you. It’s something I find really neat and impressive. Have you had any help or how did you come to that realization do you think over the last few years?

Amanda Sanchez: I do a lot of reflection. I just think over everything. I journal, I write things down, I go back through and read my notes. I think about interactions that I have with people, read their body language, think back through things that I said and then how people responded or maybe the look on their face changed a little. So, I think about those things a lot, but I take that feedback and also I ask people forward feedback. But my employees, all of them, I tell them it can be hard, but if there’s something that I’m not doing right, please tell me. I want to be the best leader that I can be for you. It’s great because they all share their feedback with me and they’re very open and honest with their feedback. I really truly appreciate that and even some of my peers here. So, it’s getting people comfortable with actually speaking up and being open to actually hearing it, reflecting on it and then taking action based on how people are responding.

Chris Fredericks: So you found that’s worked really well for you in terms of connecting with people and leading people and ultimately having the impact you want to have?

Amanda Sanchez: Yeah, yeah. It’s very important to me to be authentic and to lead by example. If you want people to share honest, open feedback with you, you have to be able to share that feedback with them as well. You have to also be able to show that you’re willing to improve on the areas that they are suggesting.

Chris Fredericks: That’s awesome. Another thing that I think about when I think about you both professionally and personally, and it’s related to this, is you have a really strong curiosity and an interest. You mentioned it, you want live life to the fullest. So, it seems like that manifests in you are always willing to try new things and food, experiences, et cetera. I don’t know. Is there anything lately you feel like you’ve learned about or experienced? What are you excited to experience lately?

Amanda Sanche: I plan on getting out and just traveling more throughout the US this year. I want to just go drive. There’s so much in the US that I’ve not seen. So, I just want to hop in the car and go and see where I end up and explore that area for the day and maybe go to a different place. I’m really excited to do that. I will always try new food. Put it in front of me, I’ll try it at least once. But I recently went to an expo where they talked about automation and things like that, so it was really cool going there and learning about all the new technology that’s available for warehousing, manufacturers, supply chain, and really just understanding what is out there and what’s possible for us and then getting creative and coming back to TVF and sharing my crazy ideas with everybody. So, that part’s really exciting for me. It’s just continuing to look ahead and think, ” How could the future be? How do all of us play into that? How can our roles continue to evolve and factoring all these things into it?” It’s just moving the parts around playing and see how things work and just continuing to do that and getting other people excited around you. I love that stuff.

Chris Fredericks: Actually, I heard that about this show that you went to, this trade show. So, I did want to hear more about that. Where was this located?

Amanda Sanchez: Chicago.

Chris Fredericks: Okay. If I’m not mistaken, I don’t know of anyone from TVF ever going to that exact trade show before. Are there anything specific that really stood out to you that may or may not apply directly to TVF, but you’re like, ” Oh, we’ve got to look into this or whatever”? What stood out to you?

Amanda Sanchez: The main thing, which this was something I came across a few months ago, it’s something I had envisioned like a year or two ago, but I hadn’t been able to find any of the actual equipment that existed that could work for our application. But a couple months ago, I stumbled across the company that makes autonomous forklifts. So, no operator needed. You put in the mapping of the warehouse into the forklift and you basically send it work. You send it jobs and it goes around and picks pallets for you and pulls them down and puts them away. So, that one was really cool to see in action and to talk to the engineers and it was fun telling them about what we do and how I envision using that in the warehouses. They’re like, ” Yeah, yeah, that can totally work. You’re on the right track.” So it’s like great. We have basic things like our putaway process that takes a lot of time for a person to do and sometimes two or three people who have a lot of inbounds. That’s taking away from valuable time that they could be spending doing other things that are more meaningful for the company. So, for me, it’s the more that we continue to grow, I want to find a way to bring those in and utilize the autonomous forklifts and keep all of our guys working on more value added task throughout the warehouse.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, that’s phenomenal. That makes me think about automation is a really interesting topic. There’s so much potential for automation obviously.

Amanda Sanchez: It’s moving so far right now.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, super interesting. An interesting topic too, I think related to that, that I’m really curious how you think about this is the impact of automation on jobs and for us being employee owned is actually an extra interesting dynamic to that question. I’ve even been asked and maybe you have too, well, if we bring automation into something, is that good for us as employee owners or is that somehow not good for us and we shouldn’t do that in a sense? But I’ve always wondered or actually I’ve thought for us as employee owners, it’s awesome because we don’t actually want to replace people with automation. We just want to make them way better at their jobs and actually create jobs that are more interesting because the automation can get rid of some of the monotonous stuff. Is that also how you think about it?

Amanda Sanchez: I don’t ever want to get automation to replace people because our people are the most valuable part of our company, but I want it to help the people be able to expand their roles, focus on more value added things, have new skillsets. I mean, we’re just stuck right now with these specific tasks that we have to keep doing over and over and over. I think bringing that automation could really free up the team to allow them to do better things that they would actually enjoy.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, and I think that’s happened at TVF. I mean, TVF has been able to double its size, its revenue without doubling employees. We had to add employees to grow. I think it’s definitely played out at TVF.

Amanda Sanchez: I think the more that we continue to grow, I mean it would be nice if we did not have to hire even more employees in the warehouses. Instead we rely on the autonomous equipment.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, that’s great. What is the experience like in TVF fulfillment centers these days? Back when I started, back in the mid- 2000s, we were in four or five different warehouses and some of them were pretty dirty. I don’t know. It was fine, it was normal. It wasn’t like bad, but I have a sense that the experience in the fulfillment centers these days is quite a bit upgraded from where things used to be. How would you describe what TVF fulfillment centers are like?

Amanda Sanchez: It’s nice. Every time we have a visitor come in, whether it’s a supplier, an auditor, a customer, they always comment on how clean our facilities are, which is great to hear, which means everybody in the warehouse takes pride in having a nice clean facility. So, they’re constantly cleaning the floors, they’re picking up trash, things like that. Another big thing that has changed in the fulfillment centers over the years is how engaged the teams are. They actually speak up when they have ideas or concerns or complaints or anything. Back when I first started, it’s like you put your head down and you work. That’s all you do. I don’t know. Just getting people involved, helping them understand that they do have a voice, what they do matters, and I want to hear from them how we can make things better and actually seeing that in action now, to me, that’s like one of the most fulfilling things because the team comes in. They’re happy. They’re joking with each other, but they know when to put their head down, get the work done, and then it’s just easy going at that point. That to me is where it’s a night and day difference. Yeah.

Chris Fredericks: That’s awesome. What are you working on these days?

Amanda Sanchez: ERP upgrade. So, a couple things that I’m working on is the idea that I have with the autonomous forklifts is a few different processes that I want to implement. I want to see if the guys can mimic that process first. If they can mimic the process, then that helps me understand that this is a good fit for automation. So, that’s one thing that they’ll be going through over the coming months. But then also, we are getting ready to do an ERP upgrade switching from Microsoft Dynamics and we are going to Microsoft D 365. So, I’m helping to lead the D 365 implementation. So, that I’m working on right now.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, that’s going to be a huge project, right?

Amanda Sanchez: Yeah, huge. But I’m really excited about it because we have so many opportunities. We’ve learned a lot over the last 10 to 12 years and we are growing. We’re in a really good position right now to take all this knowledge, all of our pain points, all of our ideas for the future, and really just bundle everything together and make the most out of our next ERP and help set us up to where it’s scalable and we can be more efficient. Everybody is really coming along because they’re getting all the right information that they need at all the right time, all this extra manual work that they’re doing outside of the system. The goal is to get away from a lot of that. So, I’m really excited about it because we have so many opportunities right now to improve things.

Chris Fredericks: That’s awesome. Out of curiosity, you joined in 2010 and that’s also the same year TVF became employee owned. So, you’ve seen the journey of employee ownership for TVF almost 13 years now, 12 and a half years. So, how would you describe what really has stood out to you about what’s not changed and it’s good that it didn’t change versus what’s changed in these 12 and a half years?

Amanda Sanchez: Employee engagement, culture, everybody’s willingness to speak up and collaborate across different departments to help make things better. Before, everybody was very siloed. You’re either in sales or you’re in warehousing or purchasing or accounting, and you don’t really cross paths unless you absolutely need to. Nowadays, everybody’s working together saying, ” Hey, if you do this differently, it’ll help things flow better downstream.” Everybody is open to feedback. Oh, I had no idea that was impacting you. Yeah, I can definitely make that change. It’s just really cool seeing everybody happy and they care about the work that they do and just super engaged. Beforehand, your head is down, you’re working, working, working. You don’t want the big boss to walk in and see you not working. But now, everybody is like, ” Okay, we can take a few minutes and talk to each other and ask how your day was. Oh, by the way, while we’re here, I had this issue that I was dealing with.” Just a really good environment, really good energy around here. The culture is great. It’s really involved into something real great.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah. Other than employee ownership, which I think has helped a lot to help foster that, but probably didn’t like cause that entirely, what else do you think we’ve done or people have done at TVF or anything really that comes to mind? What do you think some of the keys are to how that change, that evolution really, because I don’t think it was all at once either? It was over time. How do you think it happened?

Amanda Sanchez: I think it happened from the top down, because a lot of times, decisions are made from the top down and people just have to do it, right? But as we started talking about employee ownership and we’re all employee owners and everybody’s like, ” Yeah, okay, whatever,” you’re still making the decision and we have to listen to it. But you and Tad were very open about coming to my office and talk to me and listen to people. You take that feedback and you show that you listen to the feedback and you’re taking action and you continue to encourage people to do that. Then I think the managers and everybody else started falling suit. So, I think for me, because if the top people don’t make that change and they don’t show, ” Hey, we mean it, you’re all employee owners and your feedback is very important and you actually show it,” then I think that can be pretty make or break whether or not all the other employees follow soon actually come to believe in the ESOP mentality. Yeah.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah. That’s great. I think we made a lot of really good progress up until, let’s say, 2020- ish. A lot had happened, but then over the last few years, TVF embarked on a building out an even stronger middle management leadership layer from what I gather. I mean, it seems to me like an amazing group of people that almost seems like every manager of people now largely has that approach that you’re talking about, a very people oriented, very focused on creating a great environment and team culture. I don’t know. I can’t really describe it well or better than you did, but that team has just to me been taken things to a whole new level over the last couple of years. I’m curious if you have experienced that or not.

Amanda Sanchez: Oh, yeah. The people we’ve added on over the last few years and super excited, they’ve helped and get us up to that next level where we’re really jamming along right now. But I think one thing is we have our core values here at TVF and we created a list of interview questions that are around our core values. So, I think as we’ve gone through and started interviewing people in general, we set that standard from the very beginning of this is our culture, this is what’s important to us, and this is what we’re coming into, and these are the type of managers, they’re leaders that we want to hire, because we expect you to treat your employees this way. So, I think just setting that tone from the very beginning, finding people who are actually excited about leading in a different way and getting engagement out of your employees and helping to continue to foster that, I think, has really helped us bring on these really talented people who also care about the people that they work with. I think that played a role in it as well.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, that resonates for sure. Well, thank you. It’s honestly been an honor to have you out and on as the first guest on Empowered Owners.

Amanda Sanchez: Thank you.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, thank you. So, coming up next, you’re going to stick around and we’re actually going to do a fun little, short segment. The topic is going to be our favorite fast casual restaurants. Yeah, talking about food has always been one of, I think, your favorite and my favorite things to talk about. So, I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with this. So, in this case, it’s a draft. So, it’s like a professional sports league, how they do drafts of college players and stuff. Amanda and I are going to have our own little draft here, and the topic is the best fast casual restaurants. So, we’re going to do a top five and we’re going to take turns and Armanda gets to draft first since she’s the guest. So, hopefully, you don’t take my top pick right off the board, right off the beginning. But our goal in is to have the best. We want to be better than the other one because we’re competitive at Empowered Ventures. So, we’re going to draft and hopefully we hear from people who had the best list ultimately. So, what do you think, Amanda? Are we ready to get started?

Amanda Sanchez: I’m ready.

Chris Fredericks: Okay. I’m sure you are. I’m actually feeling a little intimidated with how confident you said that. Okay, your pick. You get to first pick.

Amanda Sanchez: I’m going to say Chipotle.

Chris Fredericks: Yup. Well, why? Give me a quick why.

Amanda Sanchez: Because there’s so many options. Although it is very disappointing when they don’t have my favorite meat, which is the carne asada. I wish that was a permanent thing, but man, I’ll tell you what, you can get any kind of toppings. You have to go with every salsa, by the way, all three of them.

Chris Fredericks: On the same burrito or bowl?

Amanda Sanchez: Oh, yeah.

Chris Fredericks: Oh, interesting. I’ve never done that. That’s a good call. All right. That’s a very, very solid pick. I respect it deeply. It was not my first pick, but it is in my top five, so I now have lost one of my top five. All right. My first pick is Shake Shack.

Amanda Sanchez: Oh, interesting. Okay.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, there’s a lot of awesome burger fast casual places obviously. I’ve got too many on my list maybe. We’ll see. But to me, I just like Shake Shack the best. I think they have really great burgers. I love the Flat Burger, the Smash Burger style. They do the Smash Burger style. To me, the buns seem fresh baked, better than most. I think they have some of the best bun. Then the kicker is obviously the shakes. They have really high quality, in my opinion, shakes. I went to a Shake Shack once and the featured shake of the day had locally made peach pie mixed into the shake.

Amanda Sanchez: Oh, my goodness.

Chris Fredericks: So they go above and beyond to make a really great shake. So, that’s my top pick, Shake Shack. Okay.

Amanda Sanchez: Yeah, that’s a solid choice.

Chris Fredericks: All right, number two.

Amanda Sanchez: All right. Number two, I am going to go with Chick- fil- A. Spicy Chicken, Spicy Chicken Deluxe makes me drool every time. I don’t eat there very often, but when I do, it’s a treat.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah. Yeah. Bob’s going to love that choice. Bob Burns at TVF, he’s going to respect and appreciate that choice.

Amanda Sanchez: Bob, I need you to vote 10 times, please.

Chris Fredericks: Yup. That’s a good choice and very impressive company. Obviously, you get in a line of 50 cars and you’re through in 10 minutes.

Amanda Sanchez: Exactly.

Chris Fredericks: Cool. All right. My second pick, I’m going to go burgers again, even though I didn’t want to go burgers in my top two, but I had to because you took one of my top three actually. So, Culver’s is my second choice, so I don’t know. It’s a close one for me with Shake Shack, because at Culver’s, you get that real cheddar cheese on the burger from Wisconsin. The burgers are pretty similar in terms of quality, I think, and you get the cheese.

Amanda Sanchez: Butter Burgers.

Chris Fredericks: Yes, Butter Burgers. Gosh. Yeah. What sounds better than Butter Burger.

Amanda Sanchez: I know.

Chris Fredericks: Then obviously, the fried cheese curds, which are very healthy, and you should eat those every day as part of a healthy diet.

Amanda Sanchez: I knew there’s a place out of my mind for a reason. Yes.

Chris Fredericks: They have good ice cream, too, good shakes. So, Culver’s is my second pick.

Amanda Sanchez: Okay, I’m going to go with Penn Station for my next one.

Chris Fredericks: Good call. My third is going to be Panera Bread. I think that counts as fast casual. It has a seating area, but I think they move fast enough to count. I think, obviously, compared to all my other choices, healthy eating wise, you can get some really good food at Panera Bread, I think.

Amanda Sanchez: Yeah.

Chris Fredericks: They changed the menu pretty frequently, so it’s always interesting. If you’re just somewhere and you just need to grab something but you don’t want it to be fast food, there’s almost always a Panera Bread, which I think is good. All right. Your four?

Amanda Sanchez: Yats.

Chris Fredericks: Oh, Yats. I thought you said yeah. Yes. Oh, what a great call. Okay.

Amanda Sanchez: That’s fast casual, right?

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, definitely, that qualifies. So, not everyone will necessarily know that one. So, tell everyone what that is.

Amanda Sanchez: So it’s like a Creole place, is that what you call it? Yeah, you have your red beans and rice, your crawfish meals, the white chicken chili. It’s delicious thing. I think you get bread with-

Chris Fredericks: The chicken?

Amanda Sanchez: Oh, yes, yes.

Chris Fredericks: That’s a really good one. Yeah, great call. Yeah, that’s a really neat Indiana focused, I think only Indiana, maybe they’ve expanded a little bit, chain and they just have a really cool vibe. You get served on a Styrofoam plate. They definitely don’t care about the environment. They go cheap on everything, but the food itself is excellent. Great call. Okay. My next one is out of the box, Indiana, small chain. I’m really curious if this one was on your list, Joella’s Hot Chicken.

Amanda Sanchez: No, I actually have never eaten at Joella’s.

Chris Fredericks: So obviously, hot chicken is a thing lately and fried chicken sandwiches. Joella’s, I think, is really good. Again, it’s Indiana focused, but mac and cheese, just all a lot of really good stuff. A pimento cheese spread on a fried chicken sandwich is one of my favorites.

Amanda Sanchez: Yum.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah. So, fried chicken, hot chicken, great spot. All right. We’re up to your last choice.

Amanda Sanchez: Oh, man. Okay. My last choice, I’m going to go with an old classic for me is Wendy’s. I think their burgers are for fast food, I don’t know. Is it too fast, not casual enough? That Dave’s Single is just the perfect combination of the pickle, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mayonnaise, cheese. It’s good, quick pick me up classic.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, it’s a great call. I mean, Wendy’s was the fancy burger before all the fancy burger places showed up. If you were out with your friends and you’re like, ” We don’t want to do McDonald’s. We don’t want to do Burger King, because we want to class it up a little bit,” you do Wendy’s.

Amanda Sanchez: I need a Frosty.

Chris Fredericks: You get a frosty. There you go. You don’t want to know what a Frosty is made of, but it’s delicious.

Amanda Sanchez: It’s delicious. Yeah.

Chris Fredericks: Cool. Great. Great choice. Okay, my last one, gosh, I’m struggling. Yeah, I think I should get a sub place. You have Penn Station. I think I’ll do Jimmy John’s as my last one. Maybe controversial for some, not everyone loves Jimmy John’s, but I think to me, it’s a really solid option if you need something fast and they get it too fast, right? That’s part of the thing.

Amanda Sanchez: It is pretty fast actually.

Chris Fredericks: Oh, cool.

Amanda Sanchez: inaudible Jimmy John’s at one point, so that’s a good call.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah. Yup. Cool. That was a lot of fun. So, your picks were Chipotle, Chick- fil- A, Penn Station, Yats, Wendy’s. My picks were Shake Shack, Culver’s, Panera Bread, Joella’s Hot Chicken, and Jimmy John’s. I’m really happy with my board other than I wanted Chipotle. Hi, Emily. Welcome to our second episode of Empowered Owners. I’m really glad to have you join me again this time to do a debrief of my conversation I just had with Amanda Sanchez. What’d you think?

Emily Bopp: Amazing. What an interesting person. I learned so much from that interview. What stood out to me at the beginning is just all of what she wasn’t bashful to share that she’d overcome as a child. I think, my goodness, what a great example for all of us. We all have things that weren’t perfect or were hard or whatever, and for her to just say, ” This is why I have so much energy. This is why I see the world the way that I see it. It was really from overcoming some really hard things as a kid,” my hat goes off to her. Amanda, you’re amazing. I loved it.

Chris Fredericks: That’s such a great point. Yeah, that stood out to me too. I thought it was really neat that right off the bat, like you said, she just went right to something that was really personal and meaningful to her in a sense of what she experienced and how that’s shaped who she is has been her whole life. I thought that really carried forward through the episode. I love Amanda’s just willingness to be Amanda. There’s no sense of trying to be someone else with her, and she’s just a lot of fun too. So, I thought the conversation really showed who Amanda is based on who I know her to be too. So, yeah. What else stood out to you?

Emily Bopp: For sure, feedback as a leader and her appetite for feedback, the way that she is actively wanting it, not because she has to be a good leader, not because someone told her to. No. She genuinely wants to be always improving. Again, when I said I feel like I could just sit at her feet and learn from her, keep talking, keep telling us about how you see the world and how you see the world as a manager. My goodness, that was awesome. We’re so lucky to have someone like Amanda who is being that kind of a role model and that kind of a person. It’s just so infectious. You can tell from the way that she talks about her team, those, what did you say, 20 some people that she manages. If they say one bad apple ruins the whole bucket, you got to think one good apple does the same. I’m so grateful to be hearing and seeing more of Amanda and how she leads in our organization. Again, my theme for Amanda is I could learn a ton from her, and I’m so glad that we got to hear more from her on this podcast.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, yeah. That’s awesome.

Emily Bopp: I’m fairly certain Amanda is a futurist and she doesn’t even know it. So, this was a vocab word for me. I didn’t even know what a futurist was until I ran into an organization called the Institute for the Future, IFTF. What they do is they train up futurists. You can literally go get certified as a futurist. This is someone who doesn’t predict the future, but who can successfully analyze the past and current trends to imagine possible futures so that we’re less surprised by things that are coming. So, everything that she loves and is talking about with automation and how she’s always looking to improve and she’s always looking to the future, and even for her personal life, wanting to go drive around the country, all of those things just scream to me that she’s a natural futurist. So, actually, after we get done recording this, I’m just going to ping Amanda and say, ” Hey, have you ever heard of the IFTF? I’ve done a couple of their things, and you might enjoy it too, a futurist.” These are the people who can help us see what’s coming and then react to it or embrace it or be a part of it. So, again, my theme for Amanda, could learn a ton from her.

Chris Fredericks: Very cool. Yeah, I’m really glad you shared that. Her thoughts on automation and the fact that she took the initiative to go to that show and learn about that and just make sure that TVF is constantly improving, which is one of TVF’s core values is always improve. She definitely embodies that core value tremendously well. Yeah, it reflects in her future orientation and always thinking about what’s next and practically running full speed towards it with the energy level that she has. So, yeah, she’s definitely inspiring. I find her to be an inspiring person.

Emily Bopp: For sure.

Chris Fredericks: Other than this, I thought it might be fun too, to talk a little bit about Empowered Ventures. Probably don’t want to take a lot of time, but maybe really quickly, not everyone who listens to this will maybe fully have digested I guess what Empowered Ventures really is, what we do, our structure, and what we’re really trying to accomplish. I thought maybe we could just bounce back and forth some thoughts on that real quick.

Emily Bopp: I’m really glad you brought that up because it was clear to me that not everyone really knew what the phrase holding company meant or was when I was speaking with some of our employee owners. So, can I actually pitch that question back to you? How would you describe to my mother, to anyone who doesn’t have a business background, how would you describe what a holding company is? Could we just start there?

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, great question. I think a simple way to think about it is it’s a business that owns other businesses. Maybe that’s the most simple way to think about it. Our business as Empowered Ventures is to own a group, multiple other companies that are actually other businesses, that are real businesses that do real things, manufacture things, sell things. So, we don’t sell or manufacture things at our level, at the holding company level. We don’t manage those types of things, but our purpose is to hold and build a portfolio of those types of businesses over time. Then the employee ownership component, once we add that to being a holding company, we start to become a relatively unique type of organization. There’s just not a lot of organizations like us out there.

Emily Bopp: It’s just a really simple idea around what a holding company is, that it’s a business that buys businesses, but obviously, we’re different. When a business sets out to be a business that buys businesses, what typically is their motivation and how is ours different?

Chris Fredericks: That’s a great question. I think there’s probably two main versions of businesses or groups of people that buy other businesses. One would be private equity. That’s a very common term in this world, in this space. That’s essentially financial investors who pool together and then buy companies. Usually, the intention is to grow those companies quickly and/ or cut costs quickly and then sell the company within a relatively short period of time. A lot of times, five to seven years is considered the target holding period. There are others, but that’s the most common model.

Emily Bopp: If I understand you correctly, then it’s like flipping. They pull their money together, they buy business, but they want to then do something to that business to make it worth more and then they turn around and make a profit and they’re like flipping. I mean, am I oversimplifying or is that how you would think that?

Chris Fredericks: No, no, I don’t think so. It’s flipping. Yeah. Yeah. The company’s going to go through a major transition when they buy it, and then it’s going to go through another major transition when they sell it, usually five to seven years later. That’s one way that companies are bought and sold is through private equity in that manner. That’s exactly right. The other type of situation where companies are typically being bought and sold would be usually referred to as a strategic buyer. So, it’s going to be another business maybe in the same industry or even a competitor that is seeking to buy a company and then integrate it into their business. So, with private equity, the goal is to flip. With strategics, the goal is to integrate, to actually absorb a business into the other business.

Emily Bopp: Got it. So, most businesses that buy businesses like us are either intending to flip or intending to assimilate. I think of the Borg, become one of us. So, that company, in that case, I mean, maybe it’s not as much change as being flipped, but it’s still a lot of change because you now have to become like the company that bought you. Maybe you have to change your systems or whatever. Okay. So, help me understand then, how are we different? Are we a flipper or are we an integrator and assimilator? How are we different?

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, no, I don’t think we’re a flipper and I don’t think we’re in that sense an assimilator. Yeah. As an employee- owned holding company, we have pretty much a permanent timeline in terms of how we think about our businesses. So, when we buy a company, our intention is to hold it perpetually, ideally for forever. The other thing we do that is quite unique relative, again, to the most common types of buyers out there, is that we expect and support our businesses to continue to operate very autonomously. There are some things that we are excited to bring to the table to help them go above and beyond, which may primarily the employee ownership elements, which we believe can really solidify and juice the success of these companies that are already successful when they join us. But what they do and how they do it, the systems they use, a lot of the core elements of what makes the company special, it’s really important to us to not come in and try to change things that could have an impact on that. So, we’re not stepping in to lead businesses day to day. We expect the local leadership to continue to lead these great companies, and we’re excited to support them and help them achieve their full potential as a business over the long term. So, in that sense, we’re quite different from private equity and strategic buyers.

Emily Bopp: So now I’m starting to and I probably already have, but I’m starting to really see the name of our business, Empowered Ventures, in a new light in the way that you’ve just described. Can you imagine an ownership, a business that owns other businesses and we come in and we own, but we don’t own for our own gain? We really flip it around. We own in order to empower. I mean, so tell me, are there very many other employee- owned holding companies out there like us or are we pretty special?

Chris Fredericks: I mean, obviously, I think we’re pretty special. There are others, and I think they’re great. There’s some companies that have done this a little longer than us, but we’re in unique company. I think even amongst that group, everyone does it a little different. I think our way is pretty unique in that we’re bringing a fresh approach, even in some cases, to how we’re going about doing this. It’s a small group, I think a group of very neat organizations that are organized the way we are. I think it has the potential and is already for us, having the impact of actually changing lives, employees who become owners. It has a truly life- changing potential to reap the full rewards of business ownership while being an employee over a long- term career. It has tremendous potential and promise to change lives. Ultimately, that’s what I think drives us so much here at Empowered Ventures is that impact. That’s what we’re driving towards, what motivates us. We don’t think we’re special because we’re better than anybody. We think we’re special because our purpose is really cool. I feel super fortunate to just be part of something that has a really amazing purpose. Well, that wraps up this episode of Empowered Owners. I’d like to thank Amanda Sanchez and Emily Bopp for joining me and TVF’s Debbie McClellan and Dan Swanson for providing topic suggestions for my discussion with Amanda. As a reminder, we want to hear from you. Please let us know who you think won the draft, possible future guests and topics, and how we can keep improving the show. For now, you can reach out directly using my email, chris @ empower. ventures. We’ll be working on providing multiple easy ways to get in touch with us as well in the future. So, look for that at some point. Last but not least, a big thank you to our production team at Share Your Genius for making this episode possible. Please be sure to join us next time on Empowered Owners as we explore the lives and stories of the amazing employee owners that make up Empowered Ventures. If you haven’t already, follow our podcast on your favorite platform so you never miss an episode. Thank you for tuning in.

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