Episode #320: Rick Smith – How To Take Initiative & Solve Problems (CEO Of Axon)

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Rick Smith is the founder and CEO of Axon.  Axon currently employs over 1,300 people.  A pioneer of technology with the vision of making the bullet obsolete, Rick founded the original company, TASER, in 1993. As the TASER device became ubiquitous in law enforcement, Rick pushed the company beyond weapons technology and towards a broader purpose of matching technology to public safety needs in order to make the world a safer place. Under his leadership, the company has grown from a garage in Tucson to a NASDAQ-listed global market leader in conducted electrical weapons, body worn cameras and software. Rick was winner of the Ernst and Young 2002 Entrepreneur of the Year. Rick graduated from Harvard with a B.S. in Neuroscience (Cum Laude) and later earned a Master in International Finance from the University of Leuven in Belgium and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

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“Don’t wait until you have the perfect business plan.  Have a simple concept you believe in and get to work.”

Show Notes:

  • Leaders who sustain excellence =
    • Initiative — “They see what needs to be done and they do it.”
  • Rick started the company out of his garage in Arizona in 1993
  • More on taking initiative: “Don’t wait for people to tell you what to do.  Highlight it and fix it.”
    • Luke Larson was an individual contributor when the company had 250 employees.  He challenged Rick on an issue and offered a solution.  He is now the President of a 1,300 person company
  • Mindset — Build a culture that rewards challenging the status quo
    • “Tell the ugly truth”
    • “Anyone can challenge any idea”
  • Qualities Rick looks for in hiring:
    • Need to want to be with them
    • Initiative – they need to step up and do work
    • Intellectual curiosity – someone who seeks better answers
    • No time for hierarchical people — they cannot be threatened by ‘up and comers’
  • “You want to hire people that are literally better than you.  You have to learn to embrace that.”
    • “It’s so liberating to know that I don’t have to be right.”
  • Why try to eliminate the bullet?
    • “In 1993, two friends were shot and killed.  I thought, ‘why are bullets still a thing?'”
    • “Don’t wait until you have the perfect business plan.  Have a simple concept you believe in and get to work.”
    • “Focus on solving a big problem”
  • The first seven years did not go well.  Rick was fortunate to have his dad fund it… However, it led to a difficult relationship when the business wasn’t going well.  He had immense pressure for it to succeed.
    • They fixed their core product and it began catching on with law enforcement agencies
    • They own 100% of the taser market
  • “I’m a libertarian guy. I don’t want to take anything away from anyone.”
    • “But people romanticize guns.  The real world is messy.  We make mistakes.”
      • “Why use lethal force instead of a taser?”
    • What about the phrase: “Don’t take a knife (or taser) to a gun fight?”
      • “How about, ‘Don’t get into a gun fight.'”
  • The book (End Of Killing): “Our goal is to replace the gun long term.  The book is me sharing what I believe that nobody else believes.”
  • Have to respect ideas
    • “It’s a good sign if people initially think you’re crazy”
  • Keys to building a team at work that sees a higher mission?
    • “You must have an authentic mission.”
    • “Don’t say you’re changing the world unless you actually are.”
    • “My goal is to inspire the right team and then get out of their way.”
    • “I’m now the chief storyteller of the business.”
  • Career advice:
    • “Find a job where you get to feel the impact of what you want to create.  What are the big picture things you want to accomplish.”
    • “The people who are most effective see what needs to be done and they go and do it.”
  • Use the “Get To Know You Document
  • Why joining The Learning Leader Circle is a good idea

“Don’t wait for people to tell you what to do.  Highlight it and fix it.”

More Resources:

More Learning:

Episode 078: Kat Cole – From Hooters Waitress To President of Cinnabon

Episode 216: Jim Collins — How To Go From Good To Great

Episode #300: AJ & Keith Hawk – How To Instill Work Ethic & Curiosity In Your Children

Episode #303:  General Stanley McChrystal – The New Definition Of Leadership

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