Shawn Johal | How to Rebuild Your Business After a Setback and Build Better Culture

Shawn Johal  3:11  

Absolutely, John, thanks for having me, by the way, really excited to be here today. Then I joined the family business, I was coming into the corporate world, you know, working for Rubbermaid, which is a great company, you know, $7 billion companies, a lot of great things happening out of that business. I learned a lot of green leadership hacks and tools. There are so many great leaders in that entrepreneur in that organization. And I joined this family business, you know, as a sales manager, and it was on a really fast growth path. It was a public company, somehow, someway, my father in law, took a bankrupt company, and brought on the TSX Stock Exchange and went public, no one knows today, how the heck he pulled it off. It was really impressive. And so you know, his crazy movie was just buying companies, not much organic growth really purely based on mergers and acquisitions. And he was able to take that business over 50 million in revenue in about seven years. But a really great success story along the way. But like many success stories that you know, some of them do have unhappy endings, unfortunately. And what happened was when the financial crisis hit, it also purchased a very large organization that probably wasn’t a great synergy fit for the overall group. And within a year, the whole thing came crashing down. It was very dramatic, very difficult for the family. I remember that year of 2008 was just, you know, horrible. We’re just spending time around the table trying to see what money we can get pay suppliers with. But you know, with every tough story can come in opportunity. And so when that happened, my brother in law and I, Joey, had a chance to buy back three of the divisions and start from scratch. And so you know, we bought back three of the divisions. We wanted to save those employees jobs. So we brought them all back into one place. And that’s where we found that Dallas lighting shipped our first order on June 29 2009. Actually,

John Corcoran  4:53  

wow, that’s a dark time right then. Now I know you’re a big fan of culture and the impact that it can have on a business. So looking back at the way the business had been structured before the financial crisis and meltdown, and is there anything that you would have done differently? Or is there anything, the already big warning signs that you saw in retrospect that made you realize that there were cultural issues that were going to cause, you know, in addition to the financial crisis causing a major meltdown?

Shawn Johal  5:25  

Yeah, there were a lot of elements, John, that we saw on there. First of all, I say to you, accountability, we absolutely did not have a culture of accountability. And the big problem was that you have all these independent companies doing incredibly well. But then you’re building this head office that’s there to support all these companies. And what are you doing is that you’re taking that profit from these really great companies, and you’re spending it on a head office, and you’re putting new sales managers in a new marketing team, the new accounting team, but what are they really giving back to those companies? What do they bring to the table? Not a lot to be honest with you back in the day, there was almost like this idea where we thought, you know, what, we’re gonna build this big head office that’s gonna bring all these great tools to these companies. But those companies were fine on their own. And they didn’t really need that. So there was this real lack of accountability of who is in charge of what ended up being like a really, really big issue. I say to you, that was probably number one. And number two, which is something we learned along the way, be very careful with is that financially speaking, and we didn’t sound right, even though you’re in a company that’s in this fast growth. And a lot of companies that are public and fast will don’t really care that much about the bottom line, they’re caring more about really just scaling, revenue, churn in, you know, a bunch of money out losing a bunch of money every month, we weren’t really in that position. We weren’t one of those crazy hyper growth companies, we still needed to be profitable. Unfortunately, we weren’t looking at the bottom line quite enough. You know, we kept thinking awesome stories really grabbing real solid here, and these clients buying no big deal that, you know, we’re losing money with them, you know, the financial side wasn’t looked at quite enough. So I would say those two video elements were really lacking in that previous business.

John Corcoran  6:58  

It sounds like that the acquisitions are kind of funding the growth, it wasn’t. Some of these divisions were not profitable.

Shawn Johal  7:06  

Yeah, it was really a matter of time that they were going out getting money from the public, buying these companies that were doing pretty well on their own, but then we’re taking all that money and reinvesting it into its head office, but they had office who really wasn’t just bringing enough back towards these companies, those had a weird dynamic, you know, where what would have been better looking back is that, you know, you keep this head office really small and tight, maybe just get three or four people that are running things, and then you’re having these companies, you know, be profitable on their own, that really was the opposite of what we’re doing, to be honest with you.

John Corcoran  7:35  

Right, right now, a couple years ago, you started the new business, you found this new business. And now, looking back, you’ve said in other interviews that you realize, now, that was a really risky thing that you did. So tell us exactly what the plan was between you and your brother in law.

Shawn Johal  7:54  

So you know, I think a lot of people say, Oh, you know, you’re an entrepreneur, and you did all these crazy things, or you’re not an entrepreneur, you must have thought through the strategies of logic and business. And I’m looking back a lot of times, if they don’t like, no, we’re just naive, like, we didn’t really know what the heck we were doing. We ended up taking out the second mortgages on our home, and we were actually going to take all that money and put it back into the old business. And it’s crazy, because I remember my fault. And we’re calling us at 930 at night, and the signing was happening at 10pm that night, and he said those guys, we cannot put the money back into the old business. Like, I’m sure it’s just going to get sucked into the vortex your father in law said this. He did.

John Corcoran  8:32  

To his credit, because it I mean, sure it would have helped to shore up the business Wow.

Shawn Johal  8:38  

Now, to his credit, not only did he do that, but he really helped us after that, you know, facilitate conversations with a bank. And you know, with all the different people involved in this crazy bankruptcy, to help us pull out these divisions and you know, kind of buy them back at a reasonable price. So he was really instrumental in all of it, despite the terrible situation that we’re living through. And so, you know, I was ready to be honest with you, John, like, have you not called, I was putting this money, I had a pregnant wife, you know, she had advanced, our first child was born, her second child was on the way. You know, it was like a crazy time, but I was just ready to just throw and trust my father in law and say, you know, what, if you think is the best workplace to put my money, I’ll put it in the business. And then when he called back and said, don’t do that, you know, it was a godsend to be able to do

John Corcoran  9:22  

So then what did you use? So instead, you decided to buy some of the divisions and started a new company with your brother in law?

Shawn Johal  9:29  

Exactly. We had about 10 different ideas at that point, we were going to do a few different things. I was actually going to start over. I thought about opening a gym at one point that I was able to become a sales agent, like I had all these ideas. I didn’t know what else to do. But then we had this opportunity to buy back these divisions. They were massive, John, I mean, I’m talking no one else could have come in and bought these things because they were such a mess at that point. The first question to question a is the employer

John Corcoran  9:54  

so why those divisions like if they were a mess, what did you see? What potential Did you see in them?

Shawn Johal  10:00  

Well, again, a bit of naivety, I mean, we just looked at instead of wallet, someone could fix this, it’s us because we kind of know the ins and outs of this business. And the other big thing was that we had a great partner at Home Depot, which is a wonderful partner. And for some reason, we still don’t quite know today, they said, You know what, we’re gonna give you a second chance, we’re gonna let you start all over again. And we’re going to give you back a contract, and we had spent a year doing horrible shipping to them, like, terrible. If I was the buyer, I would never have given us a second. So I don’t know what happened there. She was really sweet. She really liked us, Okay, you know what, I speak my VPN, we give you guys a second chance. She gave us that opportunity. We knew that business really well, I had learned it myself. When I was working at Rubbermaid. I’ve been part of the Home Depot division. So I really understood the ins and outs of Home Depot, my partner knew them well, also. And so that was really the catapult because we were kind of taking off with this $3 million contract right off the bat. So it really helped us, you know, take things and start the business the right way. So yeah, at that point, it was just we have these employees who want to save their jobs, we have a product line that we understand, and we have our biggest customer willing to start taking those, you know, that triangle that trifecta of information. That’s what made it you know, kind of a no brainer. And I’m saying no brainer, but it was the right decision at first. But we went that way. And we made the right decision. And yeah,

John Corcoran  11:15  

Did you work on culture from the beginning? Or is that something that you realize later was important?

Shawn Johal  11:22  

We absolutely did not work on culture whatsoever. Yeah, the first couple of years, we couldn’t even get any type of financing or anything that we were doing. We couldn’t even get a bank to support it. So for us, it was really challenging because the bank said, You know what, you guys are not viable. We don’t want to give you any money. They said, Okay, so what are you supposed to do, we got into this crazy thing called factoring. And if you’ve ever heard of factoring, factoring is nasty. Okay. Basically, what you’re doing is, you’re getting like a company to fund your receivables and your inventory at a very high dollar amount, that very high percentage amount you’re paying tons of dollars towards. And as you make more money, as you make more sales, they give you more money, but then they take more control of your inventory. And receivables at a higher interest rate needs to be at eight 910 percent, which is really, really high. But for us, it actually helped us because we did that for a couple of years. And then that transitioned us into a bank, we cared nothing whatsoever about culture, we’re just trying to survive, like most small businesses. And even I noticed that with a lot of businesses, I go working with the same idea. They’re just trying to make another dollar, you know that next day. But what happened to us was that in 2013, we hit a wall in our business. And we had, I’ll give you an idea of how bad the culture was, we had two customer service people sitting between the main phone and my partner, I could see them, and the phone would ring, but neither one of them wanted to be known as a receptionist. So a customer would call and the phone would ring and it would ring, and it would ring about 10 times. But they would just need one to look at it. And eventually one of them would grab it out of pure frustration. And I was like at that point, I realized, oh my god, guys, we have a really, really bad company culture. No one really cares about what we’re trying to do here. And you know, they’re just worried about themselves. And at that time, what happened was our biggest competitor at that exact moment, came out with a product line, they copied every single one of our products, but 200 products, every single one of them, and put in $1 less on the margin. They use the same suppliers as us as well. So we were super disappointed with our suppliers who kind of went to them and said, Yes, we’ll sell to you all the same products. And you know, it was though, at the time, the absolute worst thing that could happen to us. And today, the absolute best thing that ever happened to us. So if it went, it forced a couple of things. First of all, we have to look in the mirror right and say, You know what, this is not we are not running this business properly at all, for sure, we’re going to get back into the terrible situation we got into in 2008. And the second thing we did is we had just read, read the Rockefeller habits, Vern harnish, his first book, and we met Luckily, a coach at that point, who had just started her career. And we said, You know what, we met her through you. And we said, we should maybe give this person a chance. And she didn’t have much experience. So we thought, you know what, maybe we should be bringing in a coach from Toronto who’s been doing this for a while. But our company is super French. Because we’re in Montreal, we’re in this very French located territory. And our people at that time spoke a lot of them speak English. I say, okay, we’re gonna bring this guy from Toronto, and half our team can even understand what he’s saying. And she was speaking, you know, perfect friends is that we ended up hiring her instead. And that we’ve been doing it ever since. And we never looked back after that.

John Corcoran  14:31  

Well, and you said that you changed 80% of your team over five years as a result of some of those changes that you made? How did you hire differently once you started making those changes?

Shawn Johal  14:43  

So that’s one of the things that we were forced to do, right? You have to really look carefully at your team when you’re doing this process. And you have to really decide, okay, are these the right people for organization, and then you start getting into that category of people. You know, there’s two categories, though, that are kind of below the line which are not good, right? There’s a category of person who’s trying. I’m not very good at values and not very good at productivity, that person should probably just be firing. Because if they’re not productive, and they’re not values based, but then you have the really tough people, those are people that are super productive. But they’re not nice. They don’t believe in your values, they don’t believe in teamwork. We call them brilliant jerks, right? That’s kind of that category of people. And we protect those people, because they’re so productive. You say, I can’t live without this productive person. And so you protect them, you protect them, but eventually, they’re such a cancer in your organization, that they, you know, turn things into the wrong, you know, type of organization that you’re really looking to build. And it was over time, it was really tough at first Lego if people didn’t fit the culture. But as we started doing it, it really became easy at one point, because then you’re changing those people with players, people who really care about value, they’re really productive, really have the company’s culture at heart. And those people don’t accept, you know, the people who don’t care about company culture. And so that people don’t accept that anymore, don’t fit. So they start feeling alienated. And they feel like they don’t fit in the organization, a bunch of them left on their own, which was really great for us. And then a bunch of us had to let go, they didn’t fit. And I can tell you today, it took us about five years to do it. But today is the first time in our organization, or the last maybe two months where we no longer have one person that’s kind of below that, that value productivity acts.

John Corcoran  16:15  

How did you go about deciding on what your core values were?

Shawn Johal  16:22  

We really built it from scratch at a time when we had done it with my partner and I. It was right at the same time as a walker for us. But maybe just a year before we actually received, we were both part of the board of eo at that time. And he did strategic planning right per chapter. And we just told the tools that we’re given by God to do strategic planning. And we have built our values for much else out there. And we just did the same process for him. And I just sat in a room all day. And you know, what do we want our company to be all about? We really took the time to nail down all the values that we wanted. And shockingly to me, we haven’t changed one of them in the last seven years, we’ve actually kept the exact core values we came up with that day. We played with them a little and you know, did a few little modifications there. But overall, we decided to keep them because they worked so well for us. And they’re still the hallmark of the business today. Wow.

John Corcoran  17:10  

And you know you it’s also a family owned business it’s you and your brother in law you say you have had a great relationship with over the years. But also your in-laws were in the business your wife was in the business for a while. So what are some of your secrets for having a family business run a function without devolving into bitterness and acrimony?

Shawn Johal  17:34  

I think it’s a lot of meditation, I think that’s number one, you got to do learn. Um, you know, it’s funny, because you know, the in laws, they have been part of the other business. And when they came in with a new business, they started helping us. But it wasn’t the full time involvement, they were kind of handling sales for us in the US. We weren’t really spending direct time with them. And then my wife was in the business, we had young kids, that didn’t last very long, because it was so strenuous for we were living kind of far from the business, it was like an hour away. And so she had to travel every single day, which didn’t make a lot of sense. And then on the weekends, I’ll be talking about his business all day and all night. So at one point, we made the decision that she needed to step away from the business, my in-laws were working from a distance and weren’t involved too much strategically. So that part worked really well. It was okay, because they didn’t need to be involved in the big decisions. And so it really came down to my brother in law, and I had a really good relationship. And we were able to really take the right type of decisions together. You know, like most business partners, and there’s always a few arguments and disagreements in there. But for the most part, and we were really able to keep you know, that relationship intact, by being respectful, really understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses, playing off of them as much as possible, and you know, making sure we give each other space.

John Corcoran  18:43  

Yeah, I love asking this question for those who are involved in EEO, which you have been for many years, what role has that played being a part of a forum part of that community? I think probably most of my listeners know what a forum is, particularly in the eo context. But what role did that play over this the last 10 years or so

Shawn Johal  19:02  

I would say to you that my form is a single reason that we’re able to, you know, three x our business, the learning I got from my form, my form is a very high growth forum. So a lot of members have high growth companies, fast growing, you know, opportunities happening there. So I think that really helped the fact that all of us are growing at the same pace together. So we’re learning off of each other’s challenges and opportunities, sharing the ton of resources along the way. We’re very like minded individuals. So for me, it’s been absolutely you know, essential in our business growth. Everybody in my firm is really obsessed with personal development as well. So we spent a lot of time developing ourselves personally, looking at opportunities together, and taking that to the next level too. So it’s been for me yo has been just unbelievable. The friendships, the relationships, the learning, the people I got the meeting or met my mentor Warren restaurant through yo Vern harnish. I met through you and now I’m part of a scaling up organization. A lot to do with that. Really as well. So for me, it’s, you know, the single greatest tool any entrepreneur could have.

John Corcoran  20:06  

Now, about two years ago, you decided to take a step back from DAlS Lighting, and to go more full bore into coaching, which inspired that.

Shawn Johal  20:15  

So there’s a few different reasons. The first thing was a reason being coached. Obviously, Clio was amazing for a couple of years, I really love that methodology. For me, it was something really amazing and inspiring. And it’s such a big impact on our business. And I was using that accelerator with that company. So accelerating a program, a video, I was teaching, you know, for about a couple of years, a bunch of entrepreneurs through that methodology. So for me, I really understood it, I saw the work not only in my business, a bunch of entrepreneurs, and you were doing it as well. So I knew that the methodology was amazing. And any big company that would put in place had success. And then there was, you know, an aspect where I was finding it really stressful the day to day of the business. And also, having a brother in law had a really great vision, it was tough for us to both of our visions in the business. And I said, You know what, maybe I’ll just support your vision. And that would be even better for our growth. And you know, I’ll be a coach of that business, I’ll help out as much as possible. But you really run with this, we’ll bring in a couple of VPS, to replace what I’m doing. And I’ll go out there and I’ll go help a lot of other entrepreneurs do what they’re trying to do, you know, help them scale, I call it profitable growth. That’s kind of why I refer to it more than you know, hypergrowth, I always make sure my clients are profitable along the way. And so it just made a lot of sense. And there was also this other really strange thing happening again, with a language barrier thing, there was actually no English speaking coach in Montreal at that time, and there was a hole for that. And so Cleo, actually, do you think we’re missing a coach, you should really, you know, become a coach and help out, I was already giving some leadership conferences along the way, I thought, you know, those go perfectly together. And so that’s what led to my journey. Although, ironically, about 80% of my clients are French. So that’s what happened. But

John Corcoran  21:51  

it’s an interesting lesson in marketing your business in different communities, because I heard another interview with you, where you talked about the differences between marketing your coaching business now, which is different from the lightning business, inside of Montreal, where a lot of people speak French, or, or, you know, don’t speak any English at all, and also marketing your business in other parts of Canada and marketing your business in the US talk a little bit about the differences and what you’ve learned from that experience.

Shawn Johal  22:18  

It’s really night and day, I mean, it’s completely different. And we really went from a manufacturing kind of consumer goods, they’re really trying to market like a service and you know, something that’s really based on my personal experience of having done it in my own business. So a lot of my marketing goes around my story. Like I know, people talk about how important a story is. For me, that couldn’t be more true. It’s just unbelievably important, because I can tell people to listen, yes, I’m assuming a coach, but I’m an entrepreneur first. And I’ve done this in my own business. And you know, what, and Vern, I hope verticals this year says, But no, there are parts that work amazing. But there are parts that maybe are, you know, need a little bit of extra attention. But as an entrepreneur, I’ve actually done those things in my business, I implement this on my own tools. And so here’s a success I’ve had. And so here, I feel in a position where I can come in and help you. And I always explain to my clients, I say, I don’t really like to see myself as a consultant or someone just coming in. And not even that much as a coach, I usually call myself kind of a business partner, you know, I kind of come in as a business partner, your success is my success. And you do not do well with this, like it’s a total failure on my behalf as well. And I also tell him that you know what, as an entrepreneur, I’m probably going to be bringing a lot of ideas to the table. And I may challenge you in a different way than a coach who hasn’t run a business might do as you need to be prepared and comfortable with that. But normally, entrepreneurs really liked that pitch, and really understand how it makes sense for them. So

John Corcoran  23:36  

that’s great. You’ve got a book coming out, it’s called the “Happy Leader”, it’s been in the works for a couple of years. Now, tell me what inspired you to put your effort into a book?

Shawn Johal  23:47  

Absolutely. So crazy enough, the books started eight years ago, when I just was at home, and I was like, every night, you know, my wife falls sick a little early at night. So you know, I let me just go write a few paragraphs on my ideas. And then it turned into this concept of a book. And wherever they come from, to be honest with you is easy, because what I noticed is that entrepreneurs, for the most part, I know this might sound really funny for the audience, but they’re not happy. Like it’s, you know, we meet in our forum, and we do a one word open at first. And a lot of the words are I’m overwhelmed, I’m stressed, I’m not happy with where things are going, I have no balance. And I started realizing that people kept waiting for this, you know, moment in the future where they were going to find happiness and my metric of Tommy is that you cannot wait for some moment in the future. You need to be happy and enjoy the journey along the way. And so I built this book, where it’s a story about a person who’s kind of living through a struggle in their business life. They really, you know, they’re stuck at home, they’re terrible to their family, and they meet someone who really puts them on the right path to happiness and success and helps them, you know, figure out a better way of living. So that’s really the, you know, the concept behind the book.

John Corcoran  24:49  

Very cool. All right, we’re running out of time, so I want to wrap up two more questions. So first, you know, I’m a big fan of gratitude. And when you look at others who you have walked this path with maybe other peers of yours or others in your forum or other eo or is or anything like that others in your industry perhaps, who do you admire? Who do you respect? Who comes to mind when you think of that?

Shawn Johal  25:14  

Wow, there’s, there’s so many. I mean, it’s really unbelievable. For sure, my mentor, Warren Ross, I have to bring him up. You know, he’s such an incredible Guiding Light. He’s coming out with his own book, actually, right now, it’s gonna be really amazing talking a lot about leadership and the leader within us. Warren has been someone who’s taught me so much about the power of giving back as servant leadership, I never really understood that concept for quite some time, until he brought it up to me and said, You know what, you’re at that stage. Now, Shawn, you need to flip the script. And you need to stop looking to others for leadership, and you need to be giving it back. Now. You need to start mentoring people, you need to go out there and help businesses as much as possible. And so I’m, you know, very, very grateful for everything that he has brought to me. I mean, it’s been just such an incredible learning. Vern RNs is another guy who, you know, I’ve spent a lot of time with in the last couple of years, he’s really, you know, helped me understand, you know, not just how to scale a business and what comes with that, but also how to lead other leaders, you know, he speaks a lot about that, at it, take your leadership and lead other leaders in their organizations, really provide them with the right tools and resources so they can take their business to the next level. So very grateful at the end as well. You know, another last person I’ll mention ever comes to mind a lot is a guy named Connor, Neil, who a lot of people know through Yo, he’s a Neil Barcelona member, and he actually teaches people how to do public speaking. And that public speaking for me has been just an unbelievable tool that I’ve utilized in a lot of different ways. And he taught me that about five years ago at the Global Leadership Academy, how to give a speech, whether it’s a three minute speech, or a three hour speech, how to give a workshop, how to have the right type of voice tonality, you know, body language, so incredibly grateful that I’m here. I could go on. I mean, they’re the list is unlimited in terms of my four members as well, obviously, that have helped me along the way. But it’s been an amazing ride.

John Corcoran  26:57  

Great list. So all right, final question. Now, this is looking a little bit further back in your journey. So let’s pretend that we’re at an awards banquet, much like the Oscars or the Emmys. you’re receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award for everything you’ve done up until this point, but we all know is who do you think so? Not just, you know, I guess Warren probably would be included on that list, Vern would be included on that list. But there’s or anywhere else, going further back? friends, mentors, peers, business partners, you know, a teacher when you were a child, he would acknowledge in your remarks.

Shawn Johal  27:29  

Yeah, for sure. I really thought of my business partner joy, my brother in law and always supported everything that I was doing along the way. That’s been really amazing for me. So really grateful to him, another person, which is really huge for me, I went to the national soccer championship, and I had a coach at that point. His name was dean Giuliano. And he taught me the power of visualization. You know, we had a team that wasn’t that strong, and we won a national championship. But I would say, almost based purely on his visualization techniques in his head, teaching us how to have belief in ourselves. So that someone else who for me, I look back and think, Oh, my gosh, you know, that was someone who just taught me almost everything I know today about visualization. So that was, you know, a really, really big deal for me as well. So those are probably the two people that really come to mind when they look back and think like, okay, you know, put me to my third this level and give me the most opportunity, I would say those two people.

John Corcoran  28:20  

Very cool. All right, the book is the Happy Leader. is the website. Is there anywhere else people can go to learn more about you, Shawn or to connect with you?

Shawn Johal  28:30  

Absolutely. We actually just launched a new website just now which is called So finally I went back to my name. I had reserved that name a couple years ago, but never used it. I am very active on LinkedIn, as well as if you go to Shawn Johal on LinkedIn, I post pretty much daily, I have a lot of things I’d like to share with the audience. So those would be the two best places.

John Corcoran  28:48  

Excellent. Excellent. Thanks so much.

Shawn Johal  28:50  

Thank you, John. Really appreciate it.

Outro  28:52  

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at And while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.