Get Better Every Day: Self-Improvement Techniques for ISV Executives

Earlier this year at the RetailNOW show in Nashville, Jim Roddy, reseller and ISV business advisor at Vantiv, interviewed Jeremy Julian, COO CBS NorthStar. Last year, I interviewed the company’s CEO, Art Julian, and was intrigued by the hospitality VAR-turned-ISV’s insistence that he viewed his company as a 20-year-old startup. Roddy’s interview with Jeremy Julian sheds light on what enables this company with 100+ employees to continue reinventing itself and to achieve healthy year-over-year revenue growth and a vibrant corporate culture.

Jim Roddy: In an average week, how much time do you spend in self-improvement and why?

Jeremy Julian: I spend between 5 to 10 hours a week on self-improvement activities ranging from podcasts, books, audio books, and long posts — looking for ways to better myself. I learned a long time ago that when the leader gets better, everyone gets better.

Jim Roddy: What’s the range of self-improvement techniques you embrace?

Jeremy Julian: I learn best through audio, and I’m a runner. So, every morning I run for 45 minutes to an hour and I start with podcasts and then I turn to audio books. I set a goal for how many books I want to read for the year. I typically read 20 audio books a year on 1.5x to 2x speed. When I’m traveling, I like to read lots of blogs, which I organize with an app called Feedly.

Jim Roddy: Why do you believe that doing these activities makes your company better?

Jeremy Julian: I’m not the end-all-be-all answer at the end of the day. I want to create a culture of learning, a culture of growth within our organization. My employees suggest new material for me to read, too. As a company, we watch a TED talk each week and discuss it and other leadership topics on our internal Slack channel. Employees are constantly sharing what they’re learning.

Jim Roddy: How did you get started on this path?

Jeremy Julian: At a very young age, my grandmother taught me that I should constantly be getting better. When I was 22 years old, my father gave me a copy of John Maxwell’s book, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” and that’s what started me on the leadership path. I’ve read between 25 to 30 of Maxwell’s books since then, and he’s been a virtual mentor to me over the years although I’ve never met him in person.

Jim Roddy: What would you say to someone who hasn’t yet found that one thing yet that motivates them to keep learning?

Jeremy Julian: I’d say start with the medium you learn best in. Is it a book, a Kindle, or an audio book? Some people on my team prefer video; regular books or audio books just don’t do anything for them, and that’s fine. I’d also advise people to not give up and to move outside their comfort zones. Challenge yourself. Get outside what you’re used to doing. For example, I try to read articles and books outside my industry to better understand other perspectives and I’ve found that to be a big help, too.

Jim Roddy: How do you find the next book you’d like to read?

Jeremy Julian: A lot of times a blogger or book author mentions other articles and books. I like Tim Ferriss’ podcast, for instance. Oftentimes, he’ll ask a world class performer or celebrity, ‘What book have you gifted most to people?’ To me, when Tim asks this question to Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, and Arnold recommends a book he’s personally given to 50 people, I feel like it’s probably pretty important for me to read it, too. It may be about mediation or Zen Buddhism, and I’m a Christian, but I can still get something good from it. Most books cost between $10 and $20 and the value you get out of them is worth tens of thousands of dollars, so it’s well worth the two- to six-hour investment of your time to read or listen to it.

Jim Roddy: I can attest to what you’re saying. I recall you recommending “The Ideal Team Player,” by Patrick Lencioni and shortly after your recommendation I heard another ISV recommending the same book. I said to myself, “I guess I have to read it,” and I can say it was certainly worth it.

Jim Roddy: What’s the biggest challenge you face staying on the self-improvement path?

Jeremy Julian: The hardest part is implementing the things you learn. I have a task management solution, and I add my ideas to it, and once a quarter I review what I’ve implemented. Just like the saying, ‘You are what you eat,’ I find that what you ingest comes out even if you haven’t put together a formal process to implement it, but I’d say executing all the ideas is the hardest thing to do. Finding one or two and incorporating them into your day in bite size pieces is key.

Jim Roddy: That’s a great point to end on. Just because something becomes a state of mind doesn’t mean it’s going to help your business. You really do need to follow through. 


Jay McCall

Jay McCall is an editor and journalist with 20 years of writing experience for B2B IT solution providers. Jay is a cofounder of Managed Services Journal and DevPro Journal.

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Jay McCall

Jay McCall is an editor and journalist with 20 years of writing experience for B2B IT solution providers. Jay is a cofounder of Managed Services Journal and DevPro Journal.