Today we’d like to introduce you to Mike McKenna.
Mike, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My story involves a collision of several different paths converging into one.
When I was a kid in the early 1970’s, sporting events like the professional Dallas Tornados soccer matches would give out free game programs to all attendees, who almost always left them at their seats at the end of the game. As a fervent soccer fan who was fortunate to be able to attend many games, I would collect all the non-beer soaked programs and take them home. I would then stack them in my little red wagon and go door to door in my neighborhood selling the previous week’s programs to neighbors that ‘wanted to feel the excitement of the game but couldn’t attend the match.’ At least that’s what I told myself. Nonetheless, the entrepreneurial bug bit me early.
In the late 1980’s, I was living on my own, working full-time at a small health club chain while also putting myself through college. At work I found myself surrounded by innovative managers, including “Tom” who used to play the costumed role of Spider-Man in the old TV show. Tom took me under his wing and mentored me in business, management and how to recognize real superheroes. During that time, I also remember watching my life slip away in my “Theory of Accounting” class watching the cars whiz by outside, taunting me.
At that moment, I made a deal with myself to trade the rest of my formal schooling for a lifetime commitment to learning and education, wherever it may appear and however it may look when it shows up. We can learn something from everything and everyone and that pledge to myself to improve my knowledge I’ve vigilantly kept to this day.
With my brain now free to be more imaginative, I pursued new and different opportunities with great zeal but little else: a mining business in New Mexico, a commercial cleaning business, a cloth diaper delivery business and a limousine company to name a few. Inspiration and determination are certainly key ingredients to the success recipe, but in my early 20’s I didn’t always have the savvy, patience, or grit to stick with it when things got tough.
In the early 1990’s, I started working as a private investigator for a highly reputable firm in downtown Dallas. I got involved in a variety of cases that helped shape Dallas’s image at that time. Smarmy topics involving the Catholic Church, mafia strongholds, mass fatality accidents, high-profile disputes, multi-million-dollar lawsuits and hordes of white collar crimes, like theft of trade secrets, espionage and product counterfeiting (Mickey Mouse, Nike, Rolex, etc.).
I grew increasingly perplexed why so many white-collar criminal counterfeiters – which my clients sued in civil court to win a judgment – would just write a check, smile and be back to their evil ways the next day. If it was really a crime, I thought, they should go to jail not back to stealing from my clients.
Tapping into my entrepreneurial mindset, I sought out to learn the differences between misdemeanors and felonies, what ‘probable cause’ was, how to write a search warrant, and how to testify as an expert witness. My law enforcement mentor was “Jimmy”, an experienced and patient detective the bad guys called “Mr. Big.” I figured that to be effective for my clients; I had to do more than just take their money. I also had to actually solve their problem. That effort led to the very first arrest and conviction for criminal counterfeiting in Texas history. Mr. Big and I showed that our private/public partnership could achieve much more together than separately.
That success opened up new and exciting doors as I became a sought-after facilitator of criminal enforcement and ‘translator’ between corporate victims and law enforcement in Dallas and eventually around the USA.
One of my roles was to train law enforcement how best to investigate these often complex white collar crime syndicates. That put me in front of hundreds of hard-boiled police officers each year who often had an understandable, baked-in suspicion for a wet-behind-the-ears civilian like me telling them how to do their job.
I quickly learned that for me to be successful, they also had to be successful. I figured out that, among other things, success was often defined much differently to them, so I had to adjust my strategies before we could share in a fruitful relationship. Once I unlocked the secrets to translating the disparate needs of both law enforcement AND my corporate clients, over 60% of all my new cases were generated by law enforcement, who frequently called and asked for my help. And my clients would happily pay me to help them solve their problem. Everybody won and my understanding of the importance of always promoting a “win-win-win solution” became solidified.
Dallas provided me great opportunity and success, so I decided to give back. For several years I was a volunteer, then president, and then a board member of a non-profit that provided volunteers to projects that needed some sweat equity … tutoring kids, tearing down condemned garages, cleaning up parks, etc. Being primed to learn from that experience (a/k/a, my ‘lifelong education deal with myself’), I witnessed people that had the heart to build up their community and fellow citizens along with other people that only had the heart to build up their resumes.
The former are willing to do the hard work for no fame while the latter usually give up when it gets too challenging or wasn’t ‘notable’ enough.
Yet another gift to learn what kind of people solve real problems versus the kind of people that tend just to stir the pot.
To help address this, in 2003, I started TEAM Solutions, initially as just a ‘side-hustle.’ The original intent was to provide my best clients my best service, no selfish scrubs allowed. I delivered premier service to premier customers, which was a great slogan for bumper stickers but it was hard to spread the message beyond a small group of dedicated clients that already knew me.
By the way, the word “TEAM” is significant for all of the obvious reasons in addition to being inspired by my “why”, my family: Tonya, Emily/Ethan, And Mike. More about my business in a moment, as the paths are still colliding.
Another milestone was discovering one of the great ironies of being good at solving your client’s problems: you work yourself out of a job. The moral victory was high, but the bank balance was getting low. I needed to find another door.
In the late 1990’s, before starting TEAM Solutions, I had already diverted some of my volunteer attention to giving my very enthusiastic dog and me a job in Search & Rescue (SAR). As an Eagle Scout, an avid outdoorsman and determined volunteer, “Boomer” and I joined an active, respected SAR team in DFW and eventually earned our spot to deploy on actual missions.
Turns out that training a dog to perform at such a reliably high level had many similarities to my success in training cops: have a plan, be consistent, reinforce the desired behavior, extinguish the undesired behavior, etc. Who knew?
Approaching training and education with an entrepreneur’s mindset again allowed me to see some new opportunities that might exist for my company. So, I started delivering training, speaking and consulting services based on my skill in translating and training complex or abstract topics into simple topics.
In the meantime, Boomer and I took to search & rescue like flies to a corpse, literally, and enjoyed many satisfying results. We were honored to respond together to the Space Shuttle disaster and on numerous recoveries of people’s loved ones (Boomer was a cadaver dog).
An important note about how this particular collision of paths was so significant. I can trace the origins of all my current personal and professional successes back to my partnership with Boomer. The experiences I had because of him played a huge part in each of my decisions that led me to where I am today. I will forever be grateful to him.
Case in point: That success and exposure on my DFW-based search & rescue team led to a role with our state’s premier Urban Search & Rescue team that deploys to state and national level crises like terror attacks, hurricanes, tornados, and floods. Being a part of that team exposed me to the best of the best. The grit and savvy that I was missing earlier in my career were on display en masse. No resume-builder-types allowed. Fortunately, I also found a few unselfish mentors like “Dave”, “O.B.M.” and a dude we all just call “Country.” I adapted to the level required from me and earned a spot at the ‘tip of the sword.’ These were my people.
Despite the horrors we sometimes had to deal with on those disaster deployments, there was no greater feeling than helping someone that’s in a bad place get to a better place while also enduring the worst day of their life. Back in college, Spider-Man Tom introduced to me what a true hero looked like and they now surrounded me.
The natural progression from having so much field experience was to transition to a role instructing other responders (firemen, etc.) how to improve their leadership and decision-making during a disaster. Like cops, firemen are also known to ‘eat their young’ so I had to figure out quickly how to bring out the best of me so that I could help bring out the best in them.
TEAM Solutions was also gaining traction. Inertia was pulling me towards working with other committed adults wanting to improve their leadership … and I discovered that they exist in both the public AND the private sectors. There were now many doors from which to choose.
As my crawling-through-tunnels and wading-through-toxic-soup days were winding down, new doors were appearing. The opportunities to coach and mentor folks responsible for planning, processing, and decision-making during a crisis had increased ten-fold.
With so many different angles to ponder, I learned to sketch these new and potential paths all out on multiple whiteboards I have hanging around my home and office. Whiteboards allow for creativity, flexibility, ease of corrections, and simple, clear visual references. They’re one of the best tools in an entrepreneur’s toolbox!
So far, these paths have enabled me the honor to travel to over 40 states and territories plus two countries to facilitate my customer’s transformation from being a good leader to being a GREAT leader.
Another convergence is also happening. Informed leaders are in greater demand than ever before. Yet costs to receive skilled guidance in person has never been higher. Fortunately, online delivery of targeted, competent instruction has never been more available.
Therefore, a new door has swung wide open: online education for committed leaders of all types and experience levels.
My current life has truly been the result of lots of paths converging into one.
2017 has been my most productive and successful year yet. By the end of this year, in addition to my various consulting projects, I will surpass 12,000 adult students and 8,000 hours of in-person, adult instruction plus several hundred more via my online courses. And still counting.
Gratefully, I still have a long way to go, lots left to learn and lots of doors to still try.
My son has now been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, too. It’s appreciably harder to find soccer game programs that people leave behind these days, but I still expect his path will be as scenic as mine has been.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
For example, I’ve worked with some dog handlers that breezed through their testing to earn a coveted spot on a disaster team with no appreciable challenges. However, if ever they had to confront a complex problem, they had no reservoir of knowledge or experience in problem-solving to tap into, and they quickly become overwhelmed. That’s a tough place to be when lives are on the line so I’d prefer to have the experience and knowledge rather than just the certificate.
As a hell-bent, lifelong learner and educator, struggles are simply learning opportunities in disguise. Really.
Or as my mother always put it: an AFGO or “Another F* Growth Opportunity.”
A couple of my notable AFGO’s:
The cold beans and rice I ate for every meal for every day in my dark (couldn’t pay the electric bill) apartment was an opportunity to embrace frugality and a focus on what’s important.
The $357 remaining balance in my family’s checking account while thousands of dollars in bills stacked up provided ample incentive to try a little harder, a little smarter, for a little longer.
Not having a formal degree limited many of my options, such as a career in local or federal law enforcement, law school or having an alumni building named after me somewhere.
In almost all of my professional circles so far, I have usually been the one civilian among a sea of highly decorated soldiers, fireman and cops.
For example, after we deployed for 35 days to Hurricane’s Katrina and Rita, many of my fire department-based colleagues came home to a hero’s welcome complete with a parade, front page cover stories, and gifts. I came home to a family hug and a new can of Lysol to help get rid of the seared-in stink that had been living in my nose.
However, if I tried to live their life, I’d fail spectacularly. When I remember to embrace who I am and what I do, I always seem to do just fine.
Being an outlier is seen as a disadvantage for some brought on by a conformist mindset. If I had chosen to adopt a conformist mindset instead, I certainly wouldn’t have much of a diverse history to share.
As an uninjured, non-veteran, white, male, small business owner it’s challenging at best to bid successfully on any government work.
But just like selling old soccer programs door to door, when one door closes, it can be seen as a fatal defeat, or it can be a ‘clue’ that it’s time to find another door to knock on.
When I’ve been successful, a critical success factor has been that I’m always primed to consider ‘different doors.’ So that’s what I do: keep moving until I find an open door.
My biggest struggle, however, happens to also be my most consistent struggle: periodic moments of self-doubt.
I believe most other entrepreneurs can relate. We live and work on the tattered edge of progress, and that can be a desolate place that can drain our confidence and courage.
However, without the invigorating feeling of knowing that every day is mine to fight for, my life would just be a path to nowhere.
I accept the occasional hardship and never-ending challenges because I know that there’s always another door at the end of another path that promises yet another awesome opportunity.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about TEAM Solutions – what should we know?
I help people become better leaders of themselves and others, particularly during a crisis or a planned event.
My clients are the ones expected to stay and lead while others run and hide after plans go sideways.
I do that by delivering in-person and online advice, expert instruction, and self-paced learning at TEAM-Solutions.US. Almost 12,000 adults so far have benefited.
My newest training program for new and experienced leaders will be delivered all online. People registered here will get the scoop first: https://team-solutions.us/response-leadership-training-program-lp/
I have free email courses and topic-specific newsletters for people interested in Response, Leadership, Instruction and Evacuation available at TEAM-Solutions.US (https://team-solutions.us/)
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
My wife, Tonya. She’s a stalwart, patient, and consistent supporter. Without judgment or ridicule, she’s supported me while I pursued things that made sense to her and also a whole bunch of things that didn’t make any sense. I married up!
We’re a sum of all of the people we know. So it may seem like a cop-out, but I truly benefit (as in, learn something good, bad or indifferent) from virtually everyone I hang around. From the passionate teenager that bagged my groceries to the CEO and Fire Chief that told me that I was on the right path, I’m grateful. Those that have gone the extra mile for me with their gentle counsel and have expected nothing in return are my personal heroes.
I’ll add that I’m grateful for the truly lousy colleagues I’ve had to endure, too. From their incompetence, toxicity, and arrogance, I’ve found a steady source of fuel to create a better way.
Do you feel like our city is a good place for businesses like yours?
DFW is an awesome place to do business. Good climate, diverse collection of people and businesses, and access to every service a person or business needs. No matter your thing, there’s something for everybody. Texans for the most part also have unparalleled pride in our state. In my experience, the most resilient and thriving organizations, teams and civilizations are full of folks that believe in something bigger than themselves. When that shines through here, DFW proves that it’s an unbeatable place to live, work and flourish.
- Website: https://TEAM-Solutions.US
- Email: Mike@TEAM-Solutions.US
Mike McKenna and TEAM Solutions