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The Leadership Academy

In this episode, we discuss Shore Capital’s approach to Talent Development, specifically through Shore University’s Leadership Academies. We’ll explore how Shore is investing in talent development and the benefits for portfolio companies. We’ll hear from new and seasoned leaders about their experiences and how they’ve put learning into action.





Anderson Williams: Welcome to Bigger. Stronger. Faster., the podcast exploring how Shore Capital Partners brings billion dollar resources to the Microcap space. In this episode, we talk about the Shore University Leadership Academy. The Leadership Academy is a six month mini MBA in leadership. Each Leadership Academy kicks off with a one to two day in-person experience, followed by two virtual sessions per month for four months, and then we wrap up the experience with a full day in-person finale.

Sessions focus on developing individually as a leader, investing in and leading a team, and ultimately applying that to building and scaling the business. But to better understand the why behind Leadership Academy, I wanted to start with the original idea and talk with Michael Burcham, who first launched it.

Michael, you started the first version of the Leadership Academy a couple of years ago, really kind of combining your career as an educator and as an entrepreneur, and with your role as a Lead Independent Director. Will you just describe where the Leadership Academy idea came from and why you got it started?

Michael Burcham: Happy to Anderson. I think it's a combination of not just my role as an educator and an entrepreneur, but also as a CEO of scaling companies. What I observed is that as companies grow, the skill level of individuals often does not grow as quickly as the company grows. That puts them in an awkward spot of do they stay at their current level and get a new boss that will be managing something larger, or do they move on?

And as the leader of a company, I'd much rather them not move on because what they leave with is a lot of historical knowledge of a company. So my initial thought on developing leadership academies is how could we help individuals professionally and personally grow at least as fast as the company is growing.

So that they had a better opportunity for a full career track with a company without having to leave or realizing that they were now going to have someone on top of them overseeing what they had hoped they would be doing, simply because they didn't have the resources themselves or even the knowhow, perhaps, to scale themselves as the company scaled.

Anderson Williams: Put that in a little bit of context as it relates to Shore and the private equity space and microcap space and the kind of holding period. How do you prioritize that as the leader of a company, given the demands, the high growth demands, and all of the competing priorities?

Michael Burcham: So we are microcap investors. That means that we buy relatively small businesses, we put those businesses together to form one larger business. Through that process comes new talent that have been part of those small businesses, many of whom have had no professional training whatsoever, but are very street smart when it comes to that industry and the relationships in that industry.

I see this at Shore as a fantastic way to give individuals who might otherwise in a large company have a glass ceiling over their head to have the opportunity to actually grow and lead significant parts of a business for us. But what got them here won't get them there. And what I mean by that is what gets them recognized as a high potential will not guarantee their success in these larger roles as our companies grow.

Our average company is going to jump probably 8 to 10 times its size over a five year period of time. It's really hard for most humans to imagine expanding their capacity as a leader, a manager, an 8x or 10x. Very few people will ever do that on their own I expect. And I have seen this from 20 years of teaching in the graduate business school at Vanderbilt, you will have maybe 10, 15 at most, 20% of the folks who are self-disciplined enough to go find the resources and scale themselves.

Doesn't mean the other 80% wouldn't like to do it, but they need some structure or direction around which to do that. And the Leadership Academy, in my opinion, provides that structure, provides that cadence, and gives individuals, every opportunity to have a shot at running something significant regardless of what their past has been.

Who Is It For?

Anderson Williams: And you touched on it a little bit there, but who is it for at a high level, who is this kind of investment for when you look at that Shore landscape, when you think about portfolio companies, when you think about your experience, who is Leadership Academy for broadly speaking?

Michael Burcham: I would put it into sort of three groups, and I'll give you some examples.

There are owners of companies that we will acquire whose revenue might be anywhere from two and a half to 6 million, and their cashflow might be half a million to one or so.

Each of those owners, whether they were a physician running a practice, someone running a manufacturing plant, someone who had a water purification business, most of their skill is a trade skill.

They were trained as a clinician. They were trained in a trade. They're trained in a method of water purification, but no formal leadership skill. And as a result, and I've watched this as an angel investor over years, is these smaller businesses will grow and then they flatline our shrink slightly because the leader is so busy getting customers, serving customers, taking care of patients.

They fail to invest in a team, and so the team around them becomes somewhat unstable over time. Better people who can grow faster, move on, and they're left with what I would call a marginal group of folks to try to help them grow their company. So the first group of who it's for are those entrepreneurial leaders who joined us, and I want to compliment all of their technical and clinical skill with leadership skills so they can really help a team be more than they imagined they could be. That's kind of a bucket one.

Bucket two is that there are individuals who join us at an early phase of a company that take on roles in human resources and business development and operations, that when the company is now four or five times that size, their entire management thesis had been really telling folks week to week the things they needed to get accomplished equated to almost being the ringmaster of your own little circus.

But when you're having to scale, you must learn to lead through others and not really create work lists for others. When things grow to this sense that you can no longer see and touch everything yourself, you somewhat get in trouble. So the second bucket of opportunities for those types of individuals, we know can manage and lead really well at a smaller scale, and we're trying to provide them tools and resources to teach them how to lead in a very higher order way with a much bigger group.

I'd say the third category is that there are a number of individuals who become part of the Shore family through an acquisition that may have worked for that entrepreneurial founder, may not have been hired by Shore, but these individuals hold an enormous amount of value to our companies and would likely be quite capable of emerging as a great leader with some investment in them.

Most small businesses do not have the bandwidth or resources for that matter to invest in those individuals, and I firmly believe if we took the time to invest in their professional development, we would see individuals rise to the occasion and become exceptional leaders.

And otherwise they might get overlooked because they came to us with part of an acquisition that didn't come to us with a resume that you would think, wow, this person's going to be a great leader, but they have all the inherent skills to be a great leader if we simply invest in them.

Those are the three I tend to think of, Anderson.

Anderson Williams: So as I listen to those three categories, Michael, it's not really about how old you are or whether you're a emerging leader. It's really about where you are in your company and how your company needs you to scale as it scales.

Michael Burcham: You're right, Anderson. It's also about what opportunities you've had up to this point to really demonstrate and do leadership. The work of leadership, I'll say.

There are many folks that have worked somewhere 20 years, but they have one year of experience, 20 times, meaning they're doing the same thing year over year, and their capacity to lead has not grown at all because they may only oversee three or four people and they all sit in the same space and very easy to direct individuals energy from that view.

So it's really not a matter of age. We have folks in Leadership Academy that are quite young in their early and mid-twenties, and we have folks that are in their mid-sixties and they all are talking about the skills that they are acquiring through this process that they have never had the opportunity to have before.

Both Seasoned and Young

Anderson Williams: To Michael's point, I wanted to ask both a seasoned leader and a younger leader who have completed the Leadership Academy about their experiences. Mellissa Chester is the Vice President of Service Excellence at Navia Benefit Solutions. In addition to having years of experience and an MBA, Mellissa has taken part in numerous professional development opportunities over the years from a variety of different sources.

I asked her to describe in her own words the Leadership Academy and to talk about the relevance to her at this stage of her career.

Mellissa Chester: I would say that it's like an executive MBA. I have an MBA, and that was a little bit more technical. I think if I were to compare my experience here, it was more people focused, I think more behavioral and how to get the goals and productivity out of your employees that maybe a traditional MBA is more kind of technical focused.

Anderson Williams: I'm curious, given your experience, you've got an MBA, you've also been at Navia for nine years. Say a little bit more about investing in leadership, given that background in the state of your career. Some might think that this is for a younger group or an older group. Say a little bit more about the value of this for your stage of career.

Mellissa Chester: I would say Shore does it on a different level than a lot of the other programs that I've done. So I've been in Vistage, I've done industry conferences, I've done Six Sigma. I've done quite a few different variety of things. And I think the difference here is that in this program there was a lot of, 'How will you apply this and how will you do it right now?'

So the sessions were, I think, spread apart enough that you would get something with a really good takeaway and you'd have time to test it out and implement it and see, and then bring it back to the next one. So it wasn't just like, read this, take a test, and now you've been executive-ized or whatever.

Yeah. So it was more, it's more practical and I think the timing of it was a lot better than other courses that I've done.

Anderson Williams: Connor Benjamin is the integration manager at Point C and joined the Leadership Academy at an earlier stage in his career. So I asked him to describe his experience and share an example of something that was a key takeaway for him as a young leader.

Connor Benjamin: The way I would describe the Leadership Academy is it's really a place where individuals and teams that work within high growth, high intensity environments can come together and open up and share struggles that they're dealing with, challenges that they handle every day, and how can they better approach those situations and become better leaders, whether it's at home or in the workplace.

So I think as a young leader entering this organization, I was trained and eager to say yes to everything and it was manageable for the first year. And as Mark and I like to joke, my first year felt like three years, right? I think I aged three years my first year here. And I think being a part of this program, one instilled the confidence that, 'Hey, the organization sees me as a leader.' And two, that leaders aren't expected to take on everything. And the best leaders actually prioritize every day or every week what needs to be worked on and what can be deprioritized.

And so I think I have become comfortable starting to say no. Or starting to hand things off, knowing that other projects need to be prioritized and taken care of and will bring more value to the business and learning how to communicate that. So just having that confidence to approach that conversation.

Anderson Williams: Yeah, so one, knowing your limits and then having the ability to say no, but also not just say no and leave it at that, but to explain, 'Okay, here are the hundred things. My best guess is I have time for 15, and capacity for 15.' Help me prioritize which of these. So in that sense, they also either validate or help you say no to some things too, right?

Connor Benjamin: Right, and going through that process, as I start to work with other team members, they'll say, 'Hey, how should I prioritize this?' Or is this as important as everyone's saying it is? So it's just being able to reflect on how they've approached that on their end and how I can pass that along.

Anderson Williams: It's important to emphasize, to both Mellissa's and Connor's comments, that the Leadership Academy is designed to prompt action, to try things to improve.

It's not purely academic. It's not merely theoretical.

Each of the topics we cover has been selected to spur critical reflections and to drive what we emphasize as the thing you can do tomorrow to get better as a leader. The curriculum is designed to provide the opportunity for participants to step back and better understand what they already do well as a leader so they can do more of that, as well as to better understand where they have gaps and to start closing those.

This is Josh Everts, the founding physician of OMS360. Despite building a successful oral surgery practice, Josh talks about his challenges in scaling his team and business as well as the gaps he started to recognize in himself, not as a surgeon, but as a leader of people.

Working On The Business

Josh Everts: I think growing a practice in medicine is no different than scaling a business in any industry. And so understanding at what point certain things need to be scalable and at what point certain people need to back off and allow somebody else to take over for a certain category.

I learned that the hard way. I tried to be the office manager and the marketing person and the billing coordinator for the first few years of our practice, and although that was a great education in how to run a business, it was not sustainable.

And so as I started to realize that I need to find a way to put the right people in the right place. I was able to then allow myself to get out of the way of the growth of our own business.

As a leader in your practice, you quickly realize there are various things that you're good at and various things that you're maybe not as good at, and the ability to do that is one thing, but then the ability to understand what it takes to maybe improve other things that you don't quite understand is a little bit difficult.

It's not a great clear path to improving upon those things and even getting the perspective you need outside of yourself and outside of your practice to help bring that in. Now you can bring in consultants. And you can bring on outside help. To then affect the way that you personally view leadership as it relates to your practice takes an effort like an academy.

A way where we can somewhat go back to school and dive deep into concepts that have never been presented to us or maybe have been loosely presented and we don't know how to apply them to the current practice of oral surgery.

And so the Leadership Academy has essentially leveraged that same thing that we desired in residency, which was the tools and tricks and capabilities of performing surgical procedures, but change that into how do I perform business related skills and talents and abilities inside of our own practice.

Anderson Williams: What Josh is talking about is a shift from always working in the business to prioritizing time to work on the business. From being a powerful individual contributor that really can't scale, to a developer of people and teams that can.

Sometimes making this shift isn't so much about developing a new set of skills. Sometimes we just need the right words and frameworks and mental models to understand what we're seeing and experiencing so we can craft better solutions.

Here is Melissa Grooms the Vice President of Integrations at SENTA Partners. She was seeing patterns but couldn't exactly nail down what was going on. But our lessons on building trust and emotional intelligence delivered an 'aha' and a way forward.

An ‘Aha’ Moment

Melissa Grooms: I think trust was definitely a big one. I could see it throughout the organization and not any one reason, but because, we're a young organization, we're growing quickly, a lot of things are changing, and you have to somehow get 700 people to come along with you on that.

And so I think that was helpful in understanding what was really causing some of the pain points that we were having throughout the organization. And I think with that frame of reference, it's easier to solve for that because if you know what problem you're trying to solve for, you can actually solve it.

Whereas before we were just struggling because no one really knew why it wasn't working. So I think that's something that's been helpful to frame some of the issues we've been having. And then I think, I really enjoyed the emotional intelligence session. I think it is such an important piece of what we're doing here on a daily basis, particularly what I'm doing, what I'm asking others to do.

I think going through that session and hearing it from somebody who could really put structure to it, allows me to then take that concept, which is so nebulous and so hard to grasp and hard to explain to somebody, and really allows me to help my team leverage that as a resource while we're going through the integration process, because that's really when it's so important. We're building that trust and without that emotional intelligence, you just can't, it's tough to be successful with that.

Anderson Williams: Michael, we've heard Mellissa and Connor and Josh and Melissa talk a bit about their experiences and some of the ways that what we've learned and what we've discussed in the Leadership Academy has paid really almost immediate dividends, things that they can do in their day-to-day practice.

But this brings up a point that I know you talk about a lot and we've talked about a lot that I'd like for you to clarify here. What is the difference between training and professional development? And then of course, where does Leadership Academy fit in that conversation?

What’s The Difference?

Michael Burcham: Anderson, that's a great question. Here's how I would frame the two, having taught now for so many years and led three companies.

When I think of training, I think of ways to enhance someone's ability to do the job that they have today. Or the job they have been hired for. It often is quite technical. It's very binary. Do this, not that. And it's very straightforward in the sense that there's usually a right and a wrong way. That's the context I think of training in.

Leadership development is quite different. To professionally develop oneself requires the ability to think in a situational fashion. If we are trying to resolve conflict between a group of employees or we're looking at a way to scale an enterprise and create margin, all of those are more thinking strategic types of skills rather than, tactical skills. And to master those one needs, not only the educational content or skillset around what to do, but needs that put into context with conversations with other leaders of things they have done that worked, things they have done, that did not work.

And only through that iterative process, which takes time, does one actually develop professional skills. And it's probably the most lacking thing I see across companies today is we lump everything into a category we call training and it's all about today's work. With very little has done to prepare someone for tomorrow's work.

And leadership development is all about tomorrow's work. Developing a leader takes one, being very thoughtful about where will we be in a year or two, and how do I help this individual prepare themselves to be a significant leader at that juncture when we get there.

Anderson Williams: Developing as a leader is a process, and it takes time. It requires some trial and error, as we've heard, but it also requires some individual reflection and personal investment as we refine our practice.

So while the process and the curriculum of the Leadership Academy have been meticulously designed, we also provide a learning management system or LMS to back it up. So in addition to being able to access all course materials and recorded sessions at any time, the LMS houses a curated leadership library of articles and podcasts and videos, as well as self-driven learning opportunities with content that compliments and deepens the core curriculum.

So every participant can go as deep as they want on any topic that feels most present and most important to them, their growth, and their company. To wrap things up, I wanted to come back to Michael.

Michael, we've done more than 15 leadership academies at this point. We have five active right now, and they've all grown and evolved from that first experience you led several years ago. We've heard here from leaders at various levels of their organizations with different experiences and in a range of roles in their companies.

To wrap this conversation up, will you just put back on your CEO hat or put on your Lead Independent Director hat and share who you would be looking for or how you would identify in those roles, the talent you would want to invest in. Where are you looking for the people to send to a Leadership Academy?

People To Invest In

Michael Burcham: That's a great question, Anderson. First I would look to who do I believe are high potentials in the company that have capacity and opportunity to do more, but likely need some skills to develop themselves further to do that well. That'd be my first group I would look at.

The second is, given we are a highly acquisitive private equity firm, I would look at the acquisitions we have made and what natural talent existed there that may have been overlooked in the past for opportunity, or we might be at risk losing that individual without investing in them. And I would use it in a almost defensive way to demonstrate we want you here. 'I want to invest in you personally and professionally because we want you here for a long time. You add value'.

Sometimes when you're part of the acquired business, you get lost a bit or you feel you're not seen at all. And I think we lose really talented people over time because they have that belief and we don't do anything to dismiss that belief. So that would be another category I would look at.

I think the third I would look at is I would look around my C-suite at some of my youngest members who likely have great opportunity to grow, but their entire professional development skill has been what they learned at an undergrad or graduate school.

Their life experiences are quite limited at this point, and I have them in a role where I'm asking them to put their head down every day and work really hard. So their opportunity to interact with other professionals who are a few years even ahead of them and leading is more limited.

Because I believe putting them into a Leadership Academy with more seasoned leaders or people who just have more life experiences, they can learn through those collaborations and conversations without having to make all those same mistakes themselves.

Anderson Williams: This podcast was produced by Shore Capital Partners with story and narration by Anderson Williams. Recording and editing by Andrew Malone. Editing by Reel Audiobooks. Sound design, mixing and mastering by Mark Galup of Reel Audiobooks.

Special thanks to Michael Burcham, Mellissa Chester, Connor Benjamin, Josh Everts and Melissa Grooms.

This podcast is the property of Shore Capital Partners LLC. None of the content herein is investment advice and offer of investment advisory services, nor a recommendation or offer relating to any security. See the terms of use page on the Shore Capital website for other important information.

People To Invest In
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