1802 – Talking about Intrapreneurship with RJ Grimshaw

In this episode of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks to the Business Investor of UniFi Equipment Finance, RJ Grimshaw.

Grimshaw Wide

RJ Grimshaw's story is nothing short of remarkable. He successfully grew a business from a modest $13 million to an impressive $150 million sales. But what's truly inspiring is his unwavering commitment to fostering an entrepreneurial culture.

RJ believes aligning employees with the company's vision and mission is beneficial and essential for substantial growth. He highlighted the importance of identifying and nurturing entrepreneurs within a company.

RJ shared that a long-term commitment is the key to creating a culture of entrepreneurship. It's about encouraging employees to share their ideas and take calculated risks.

He provided practical strategies for leaders, such as setting up formal programs to track and implement employee ideas, creating dedicated communication channels for idea submissions, and identifying and empowering champions of the entrepreneurial operating system.

According to RJ, Recognizing and celebrating entrepreneurial employees' contributions is vital. It boosts their engagement and commitment, creating a positive feedback loop and encouraging others to step forward with their ideas. This recognition can profoundly impact the overall morale and innovation within a company.

RJ addressed the challenge of engaging employees who may prefer to follow instructions over disrupting the status quo. He suggested a balanced approach, where the majority focus on functional tasks, but a significant portion—20%—is encouraged to innovate and drive change.

Key Points from the Episode:

  • Importance of fostering an entrepreneurial culture within organizations
  • Identifying and nurturing entrepreneurs within the company
  • Soft skills essential for driving innovation and growth
  • Strategies for evoking a culture of entrepreneurship within organizations
  • Recognizing and empowering entrepreneurial-minded individuals
  • Encouraging participation from employees inclined towards following instructions
  • Balancing functional tasks with driving innovation and change
  • Nurturing soft skills such as ownership mentality, continuous learning, passion, and willingness to take calculated risks
  • Practical advice for leaders to create a culture that supports entrepreneurialism
  • Value of including entrepreneurial mindset on resumes and job descriptions

About R.J Grimshaw:

RJ Grimshaw, the ex-President and CEO of UniFi Equipment Finance until October 2023, orchestrated a remarkable transformation during his tenure, elevating the company's revenue from $13 million to an impressive $150 million.

His extensive experience includes key leadership roles at EverBank and Key Equipment Finance. RJ served as the treasurer on the Equipment Leasing Finance Association board. As a distinguished author, his work “ABLE LEADERSHIP” establishes him as a leading authority in intrapreneurship, sales, and leadership.

RJ's strategic vision and impactful leadership have left an indelible mark on the financial landscape, reflecting his prowess in steering organizations towards substantial growth and success.

About UniFi Equipment Finance:

UniFi Equipment Finance, formerly Ervin Leasing, stands out as a distinguished provider of commercial equipment leasing services. Renowned for its superior service and commitment to integrity, UniFi offers a diverse range of lease plans covering virtually all types of commercial equipment.

With a history dating back to 1978, the company has been a dedicated member of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association (ELFA), showcasing its longstanding presence and commitment to industry standards.

In January 2013, UniFi underwent a significant development as it was acquired by the Bank of Ann Arbor, a community bank serving Washtenaw and Western Wayne counties.

This strategic alliance with the bank has infused substantial liquidity and positioned UniFi for projected growth. Both entities share a mission of quality service, a robust credit culture, and a collective commitment to community development.

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Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Want to learn more? Check out UniFi Equipment Finance website at

Check out UniFi Equipment Finance on LinkedIn at

Check out RJ Grimshaw on LinkedIn at

Check out RJ Grimshaw on Instagram at

Check out RJ Grimshaw on Twitter at

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Josh (00:00:05) - A thoughtful listener before we get going. Did you know that my company up My has launched more than 200 business podcasts. The host of our shows are amazing leaders and collaborators. Folks I want to connect you with. Maybe you deserve your moment in the spotlight as a guest of one of these amazing shows. Just go to up my, where you can see more than 50 shows that are actively seeking business leader guests like you to celebrate right now in front of their high caliber audiences. Just click on the podcast tab, add up my, where you'll see shows like the Optics in Action podcast hosted by the visionary Ryan Weiss, president of EPS. This daily podcast is a treasure trove of insights for anyone in the manufacturing and construction world. Are you a business leader or innovator in these industries? Then Optics in Action is your go to source for stories that inspire and strategies that really work. Ryan and his guests dive deep into the journeys of successful founders, uncovering the secrets to scaling up in today's fast paced business environment.

Josh (00:01:23) - But that's not all if you are at the helm of a thriving company. Optics in Action is actively seeking guests like you in those industries, leaders who are shaping the future of manufacturing and construction. Share your story, your challenges, and your triumphs with a senior leadership level audience who are eager to learn from your experience. Don't miss this chance to be a part of a community of visionaries. Visit up my Influence Comm, click on the podcast tab and look for optics in action. Whether you're tuning in as a listener or stepping up as a guest, join us in driving the conversation forward. In the world of manufacturing and construction. Your voice matters and we can't wait to amplify it. With us right now RJ Grimshaw. RJ, you are the former CEO of Unifi and you are now found on the web at RJ You are an entrepreneur coach. I love what you talk about and I think that there's a lot of us who are listening to this conversation right now that find ourselves in situations where, you know, we're probably staffed up with a lot of independent contractors, and those independent contractors are independent.

Josh (00:02:44) - They're doing their own things. So yeah, I'm so excited to talk about this topic of entrepreneurship. I don't think we've talked about this in a long, long time. So thank you so much for joining us. No, I.

RJ (00:02:53) - Appreciate being here and excited to talk about the topic. I'm very passionate about it. And at my heart, I'm I am an entrepreneur. I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. My dad's business plan hangs behind me in my office from 1983, which was handwritten in pencil, and I find it ironic that the interest rates when he wrote this business plan was at 12%. So we're all in shock right now with these raising rate environments. But yeah, this guy back here and they took this business plan and grew to a $50 million company with three partners. Handwritten pencil. Didn't overthink a business plan. Just put together the, you know, scope, responsibilities, accountability. And who does what. Three different owners, three different backgrounds. One was an accountant, one was sales, and my dad was the field operations person.

RJ (00:03:34) - So I just fell into entrepreneurship when I fell into corporate America. And I really self-identified, probably in my mid 30s, of, hey, that's who I am. I think like an entrepreneur because I was surrounded by that, but now I'm doing it in the confines of another business. And that really helped the, you know, my career the way that it was. And and like you said most recently, I was the second president, CEO for unify was a company that was started in 1978. And over the last ten years, we grew that from 13 million in sales to 150 million in sales. And now the time is right where I'm going to. Actually, I've exited the business and now going out on my own to become an entrepreneur and teach business owners the value of having entrepreneurs within their company.

Josh (00:04:19) - Yeah. Um, I just noticed on your website, uh, although I don't see that on your LinkedIn that you're also a veteran owned business. I didn't realize that.

RJ (00:04:26) - I was in the Air Force.

RJ (00:04:27) - I don't talk a lot about it. Um, I don't know why. It's just I went in for three and a half years in the Air Force. I went to college. I really wasn't sure that was for me. I got married at a very young age. I've been married 33 years to my high school sweetheart. And wow, like so many young people, right? They want to grow up so fast. And then when they get there, it's like, ooh, I kind of liked it without the responsibilities, without this adulting. But I went in the Air Force and it was the best thing that ever happened to me, and actually exited the Air Force at the ripe age of 23. My dad, who again was my mentor, set my brother and I up. When I say set, it was all loans. It was. Nothing was given to us to start our first business, which is the bar restaurant. Um, it's my first time of owning my own business, and he was the mentor that wouldn't enable.

RJ (00:05:13) - But he would point us in the right direction. He would say, this is where you have to go. Do it. I'm not doing it for you. So he was provided the guidance, but not enablement. But then when I fell into corporate America, Josh, I quickly realized again that my makeup and the way I thought about things was completely different than most people. And and we get into functional and vital employees. And an entrepreneur is a vital employee in your organization, like we were discussing before. Uh, we jumped on on the zoom here. You feel that within your organization you have a lot of entrepreneurs and hence why you're successful? Because when you're able to surround yourself with people that have this skill set, and it's really soft skills that you're looking for to identify, it's not hard skills. It's um, again, we'll talk through those. But when you have those people in your organization, it's magical. It's what helped us grow from 13 million to 150. And guess what? We didn't add bodies.

RJ (00:06:07) - We didn't add employees. We added people that came in with a mindset of improving processes and always looking, well, why do we do it like that? There's friction here. What about this? And a lot of brainstorming, a lot of whiteboards, um, in our offices, this, you know, jump up and I have them now my my office here where, you know, brainstorming with a whiteboard is the greatest thing ever.

Josh (00:06:28) - So maybe just let's lay out just a little bit more foundation on what it means to create a culture that supports kind of that entrepreneurialism, uh, energy.

RJ (00:06:38) - Yeah. Let me start the foundation with the definition of an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is someone that thinks like an entrepreneur within the confines of an organization. And it's very critical that the opener aligns with the vision and mission of the company, because if there's no alignment, they're there. You're not going to get everything possible that discretionary effort or discretionary engagement out of employees if they're not aligned. So when you find that alignment within a person in the company, that's when the magic happens.

RJ (00:07:07) - It starts with leadership flow. You as the business owner or the business manager really have to say, okay. I want to develop this type of operating system that we call it. It's a culture. And that culture is really first ownership of the manager or the owner, and then secondly, having a conversation either with your management team or even if it's one manager, you're, you know, second in command per se, okay, of just fostering ideas to be shared within the organization. And when that happens, you have that communication back and forth. Because a recent studies show, Josh, that 75% of employees in an organization believe that they have ideas that will enhance the business, and they'll be everything from process, go to market strategies, customer journey processes, even any everything from delivery of product per se. And again, when you set up that type of environment and that culture, it's amazing to watch that the benefits of it.

Josh (00:08:04) - Yeah. Um, well, so how can we encourage this within our organization? Because it sounds great.

Josh (00:08:10) - I would love, you know, for my team members to feel empowered to the level where they could bring these great ideas and we can kind of join in that passion for, you know, really creating the best possible version of ourselves, you know, so we can generate greater impact for our clients.

RJ (00:08:31) - And there's really two avenues. One, you can have a formal program, which we come in and we'll do a full immersion program where we track the ideas because we want to. There's a dopamine effect to it as well. When someone shares a good idea that you implement, you want them to feel part of the company and their voice heard. I'll give you an example for that. At unify, we had a sales person, and again, I had a blind spot to this. I was flying up here worried about other things, and the sales salesmen came to me and said, hey, RJ, I think we need to develop an online portal to receive payments from our customers. Remember, we're lending money to them to buy the equipment.

RJ (00:09:05) - However, we need to set up an easier way for them to pay us via either an ACH or wire online. And so much is done online now, right? We did not have that the company would start in 1978. This was 2015. It was stagnant somewhat. So I said, great idea. I said, however, we don't have the capital to do that right now. We're in a growth mode. He said, well, why don't I take and try and run with it? Still do my core, my core job, I still have to perform and hit my numbers and things of that nature, but I have time and bandwidth. I would like to really focus on this. And I said, wonderful. However, you're going to have to influence our IT team because this is not on the roadmap, and then you're going to have to influence the outside provider to do this. He did it within three months. Josh. Today we process over $100,000 a monthly payments from our customers via that online portal.

RJ (00:09:55) - Again, that was a blind spot to me because if you're a business owner and you know the E-myth, right, you're working on the business and you're not in the trenches on a daily on a daily basis. So you have blind spots. So that's where you if you have that, that communication and also allowing your entrepreneurs okay to do that, you'll see benefit. And I could go on and on with multiple stories either within unify or outside of unify from a product perspective. But it's just amazing. And then the other thing it does, Josh, it increases the level of engagement of your team members, because now they feel they have a voice in the organization. They feel they're putting skin in the game. It's not about paying them more. It's about having them feel and having the emotional attachment to the success of the overall organization and also their team members that they're surrounded with. The peer accountability goes up considerably as well.

Josh (00:10:48) - You know, and then there's there are going to be folks within our organizations that, you know, just looking at some kind of did a little bit of personality tests and, and some people don't, they just don't really want to disrupt anything their personality is they'd much rather just be given a set of instructions and, you know, just kind of like that's comforting to them.

Josh (00:11:11) - And they'd rather just kind of execute. Yeah.

RJ (00:11:14) - So we have a ratio to that. Josh, we actually tell our business owners and our managers that we work with, you actually want an 80/20 split and we call them functional and vital because 80% is functional. They have to do to the day to day. You develop the processes, the systems, the SOPs, and they can follow those. However, you're to your point, you're never, ever going to get anything more out of those functional employees. And again, that's not a knock. That's just the way that they're wired. And we need them.

Speaker 3 (00:11:39) - Oh yeah. Yeah.

RJ (00:11:41) - The 20% is where you're going to get the uptick within this culture. And guess what? Those functional team members all of a sudden you start seeing sharing more and more ideas. But you have to be consistent with the culture and you just can't do it as an initiative for one month. This is you can't say, I'm going to lose weight, go to the gym one time and say, well, I haven't lost any weight, I'm giving up.

RJ (00:12:02) - This is really a long term culture that you put and set in your organization.

Josh (00:12:08) - Yeah. If we currently don't have that, like, you know, let's say that, you know, when we have our leadership meetings or we have our, you know, internal meetings and it just doesn't seem like there's a lot of input that's coming in. What what can we as leaders do to start evoking a little bit more where where folks feel like it's a safe environment to share some of these things, that they might have these ideas that may have.

RJ (00:12:33) - So we we do one of two things. Either we will tell business owners to set up an, an email within their organization called the ideas at whatever the domain is. Then they then your team members can actually put in writing because we want them critically thinking. We just don't want them winging ideas all over the place. That doesn't make sense. And that's back to the alignment of the mission and vision to that individual. And then start looking for soft skills within your organization to prop them up.

RJ (00:12:59) - The champions within the, you know, entrepreneur operating system. And it's really soft skills. You're looking for individuals that have an ownership mentality. They come in and they own what they're doing on a daily basis to their life learner. They're always wanting to learn. And entrepreneurs, if you assign them a job or a task to do something, they'll typically just like I would look at it and say, great, this is great. It's not in my job description, but I get to learn something new. Just like that gentleman who set up the portal for us. He has that skill for the rest of his career to be able to do that, and he didn't go to school for it. It wasn't part of his job description. He just felt it was the right thing to do. The third thing you want to look for is passionate people. They're passionate about life. They're passionate about everything they do. They're just, you know, excited about life. They enjoyed the journey that we're all on.

RJ (00:13:43) - And then they also are willing to take calculated risks. And that's the difference, I believe, between an entrepreneur and an entrepreneur, that entrepreneur, they're fine to take the risk. They're willing to put their capital on it. The entrepreneur might not be as tolerant to take that risk from a monetary perspective, but they're willing to take the risk, to push the boundaries, to make improvements within the organization, especially, again, back to that alignment that they feel passionate about the mission and vision. And then the last thing they drive, spark and change. Their wheels are always spinning. They do drive people crazy, like you mentioned earlier, because a lot of functional employees would be like, why can't we? We've always done it like this. Yeah. And it's really easy. You say, well, I guess we can be like blockbuster, or we can be like Sears, and we could go on and on and on dropping names like that. Um, and I do a presentation that I speak to national conferences and it titled the presentation is actually Don't Be the Next blockbuster.

RJ (00:14:36) - Um, and it's specifically in the times we live in, because it's so critical for both the entrepreneur and also the company, because if you're a vital employee and an entrepreneur, and unfortunately, if a company is looking to downsize people or have to make cuts, do you believe that that vital employee will be cut? Now there are two. There are two incredibly valuable to the organization. But that functional employee typically and let's be honest, it happens in every single company. When those discussions start, it's a stack ranking. Who brings what value to the organization. High value activities versus low value activities. And entrepreneurs are always doing high value activities.

Josh (00:15:14) - Yeah. RJ, your website is RJ Grimshaw. Com for folks that have been listening to our conversation like RJ, I need more. I want to like I'm already finding myself like I want to geek out on this topic. Where do I go from here?

RJ (00:15:30) - Yeah, just come to my website RJ or just Google me. There's all kinds of YouTube videos out there.

RJ (00:15:35) - Podcasts like do This because my main mission now is to have when someone says, what are you? And people say, oh, I'm an entrepreneur. I would like people to start identifying, hey, I'm an entrepreneur and have that be just as sexy. And it's just as cool is that entrepreneur? Because guess what? Every single entrepreneur needs a good entrepreneur within their organization. They're the doers. We're the doers, the entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs are the visionaries. So it's commissioning. Really. You want people in your company? We call it commissioning with you to have success.

Josh (00:16:10) - I really like. How cool is that? You know, it's just like there was someone on my team or someone within any organization says, yeah, so what do you do? Well, I'm actually an entrepreneur within my influence. So, you know, it's my responsibility to do this, this, this. And we are always innovating. We believe in constant, never ending improvement. And, you know, it's my job to always be looking for great opportunities so that we can evolve and, you know, and truly become the category leaders that we desire to be and, you know, make that impact in the world.

Josh (00:16:36) - That's really cool, by the way. That looks really good on a business card. I'm going to say it's a long.

RJ (00:16:42) - So this is back to the individuals where we coach the individuals as well as the business owners. And I preach and evangelize to individuals. Put that on your resume, because that is, if I see that on someone's resume, they've already defined themselves as an entrepreneur, and they probably and of course we're going to interview and things of that nature, however, in assessments to make sure that they do have those traits. Also, we teach business owners that, you know, war on talent. It continues. You know, if you're a high value team member, you know, there's other companies that are probably wishing to hire you. We have them put on their job descriptions. Inntrepreneur mindset. All of a sudden by doing that one little subtle change, you saw, the level of your candidates improved tremendously, because now that's attractive to them, because they know their voice is going to be heard and they're going to come in and be able to do meaningful work within the organization.

Josh (00:17:36) - Love it. RJ Grimshaw again. Your website RJ again. Entrepreneur, coach and former CEO of unify, which is a substantial bank in Michigan. So our dailies a great conversation. Thank you so much for joining us. I've really enjoyed this.

RJ (00:17:56) - Thanks Josh. Having me appreciate it.

Josh (00:18:03) - Thanks for listening to the Thoughtful Entrepreneur show. If you are a thoughtful business owner or professional who would like to be on this daily program, please visit up my influence common Guest. If you're a listener, I'd love to shout out your business to our whole audience for free. You can do that by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or join our Listener Facebook group. Just search for the Thoughtful Entrepreneur and Facebook. I'd love, even if you just stopped by to say hi, I'd love to meet you. We believe that every person has a message that can positively impact the world. We love our community who listens and shares our program every day. Together, we are empowering one another as thoughtful entrepreneurs. Hit subscribe so that tomorrow morning.

Josh (00:18:54) - That's right. Seven days a week you are going to be inspired and motivated to succeed. I promise to bring positivity and inspiration to you for around 15 minutes each day. Thanks for listening and thank you for being a part of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur movement.

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