Executive leadership with JLL’s Vice Chairman Herman Bulls | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

Executive leadership with JLL’s Vice Chairman Herman Bulls | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Herman Bulls, Vice Chairman Americas, JLL. Herman Bulls talks about his leadership journey, from modest beginnings to eventually becoming one of the most influential people in the real estate industry. 


Some highlights:

How Herman Bulls has been able to stand out in leadership roles throughout his schooling, military service and professional career.

Herman’s six keys to success 

Leading organizational culture change

Dealing with microaggressions and serving as a role model

Herman Bulls being honored with Executive Leadership Council’s Achievement Award 


Also mentioned in this episode:

Stuart Scott, commercial real estate executive and the first CEO of Jones Lang LaSalle

Maya Angelou, American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist

Buddy Moore, coach at Coffee High School from 1970-81



Connect with Herman Bulls:

Herman Bulls LinkedIn

Herman Bulls Twitter

Herman Bulls Facebook

JLL Washington


Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:

MahanTavakoli.com


More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 

PartneringLeadership.com



Transcript

Mahan Tavakoli:

Welcome to partnering leadership. I am really excited this week to be having a conversation with Herman Bulls. Herman received his bachelor's degree in engineering from the United States Military Academy at West point, then received his MBA in finance from Harvard Business School.

 

He currently serves as vice chairman for JLL, where he also is the founder of their highly acclaimed public institutions division. Herman also co-founded both Capital Partners and Bulls Advisory Group. He serves on public, private, and non-profit boards and has received numerous awards, including in 2020, receiving Executive Leadership Councils achievement award.

 

Now we really enjoyed this conversation and I am sure you will too. And I also enjoy getting emails from you. Mahan@mahantavakoli.com. Keep your feedback coming or you can leave voice messages for me on Partneringleadership.com. There's a microphone icon, that's what you can use for those voice messages. 

 

Don't forget to follow the podcast. That way, you will be first to be notified of new releases. And finally, when you get a chance, leave a rating and review that way more people will find these episodes and benefit from the leadership insights. 

 

Now, here is my conversation with Herman Bulls.

 

Herman Bulls. Welcome to Partnering Leadership, I am really excited to have this conversation with you.

 

Herman Bulls:

Good to be here Mahan. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

Now, Herman, you've had a significant career at JLL, been really impactful in much of your involvement in the community, but before we get to any of those, would love to know whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing impacted the kind of person you've become. 

 

Herman Bulls:

So I'm from Florence, Alabama. That's a place in Northwest Alabama and those of you who are music fans know of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where many of the greatest soul and everybody from rod Stewart to Arita Franklin, did their recording there in muscle shoals and so Florence is a nice little Southern town and those of us who know the South football and Friday night lights is very, very important and something that I certainly think about and this a lot.

 

But for me, I was actually born on a farm in Center Star Alabama, which is a suburb of Killen and Killen is a suburb of Florida.

 

So you can imagine this is a place where, you know, your neighbors are generally your relatives and your half a mile away. And that was great. 

 

Really interesting about my background is, unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet my father. My father was a laborer at the Tennessee Valley Authority and he was also a very wise man and I think maybe some of my instinctive genes from being a businessman came from him.

 

Now my father was killed in an automobile in a farm accident. We had two partials. And to go to one partial to the other, you had to go on highway 72, which is a main highway there in Alabama. And he was going from one farm to the other. And unfortunately, a 18 Wheeler ran into his tractor and he was killed. And that happened in October of 1955. And I was born in February 1956. So that means that unfortunately, I never had an opportunity to meet my father. And my mother at the time- and I'm the youngest of seven, so there were six other kids with a laborer and a farmer as the dad, my mom was kind of the homemaker and a domestic, to say the least. And she sitting there pregnant, her husband dies and she's got six kids. 

 

So long story short over the next years, particularly as I grew up in recall, my mother at this time had not finished high school. She went back and she basically did cooking and domestic work for many years. But I remember when I was in like the second grade, she went back and got her GED because I used to go with her in the evening. She finished her GED and then she went to John C. Calhoun Junior College in Decatur and she would drive up there three days a week, full-time working and she had three jobs she did. She basically spent that time, got her degree, became a licensed practical nurse. We moved from the farm where we live and we moved into Florence. And from there that happened to me in the seventh grade and Mahan, from there, it's almost magic. I think of it. And I tell people it's like a salmon running upstream.

 

So I went to the Apple beach junior high school and the second sixth grading period of my seventh-grade year, I was able to make the basketball team. And then from there, junior high school that went well, then I went to Coffee high school, and somehow became a class favorite. I was the freshmen starting quarterback. And you got to remember, this is in the seventies were, and your listeners may or may not know that I'm African-American, but blacks didn't play quarterback because you weren't smart enough and go on and go on. And in senior year by the time I graduated high school, not only was I, the first full-time starting black quarterback, I was president of the student council, I was boys state, I was Class president, I was honor society, I also had the record in high jump at the school, and in addition to that, I played basketball. The one year I played, I did track and baseball at the same time. So I never had a day unless there was an athletic event that I went home after school because I was either involved in some schools, social civic activity, or practice or a game.

 

And from there I had the opportunity. There was six kids from our competitive high school, went to West Point, and simultaneously that was my junior year. West point started recruiting me to play Football and I was recruited by all of the academies and some of the other schools. So I was a good athlete. I don't think I was obviously a great athlete and went through that process and I had two opt- I had a lot of options, but I narrowed it down to either go to West point or go to Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt had cobbled together, not full scholarship and some athletic thing because I was going to be a preferred walk-on and football. Then they were going to give me some academic scholarships and they really tried to pull something together and I just looked at it and there's 17 year old and people telling you how great you're going to be one day. That's a scary thought. And there's something about that challenge of Westpoint that appealed to me and I said, I'm going to take the Westpoint route 

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

What a wonderful challenge that you took but when I reflect on it, Herman, your mother's work ethic and pursuit of education must have by itself, had a big impact on you from those early days. 

 

Herman Bulls:

Well, not only me but all of the kids. And you can imagine out of those seven kids, there are 11 degrees. Six out of the seven finished college, all of them went to college. One of my siblings didn't finish. And we're talking about lawyers, nurses, entrepreneurs, accountants. I mean that just a teacher, just a fantastic- and the lawyer fantastic group. And I think that work ethic from being kind of raised on a farm and you know, what it is to work and, you know, we weren't certainly given anything, but she certainly set an example there's no doubt about it. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

So now I know you're very proud of having raised three wonderful sons. How do you give some of that work ethic- they didn't grow up on a farm. How do you give some of that work ethic and that pursuit for knowledge to your sons? 

 

Herman Bulls:

Well, I am very proud of my sons and I hope they don't hear this because they don't hear me say that very often. I'm still their dad, but no, seriously, we did a couple of things. Okay, So first of all, I thought about how I was raised, particularly during those years before we moved off the farm and it wasn't pure poverty by any stretch. I've never thought of myself poor in my life. I mean, we had food and we had clean clothes and I had everything that everybody around me have. And of course, I didn't have 220 channels of cable TV to see how the rest of the world in any event. So there wasn't a position where you felt sorry for yourself. But one of the things I did want to do, because my kids were raised in a fluent environment, and we're going to talk a little later, probably about an organization called the Executive Leadership Council, which was very helpful to me in saying the following.

 

How do you raise your kids in an environment that you didn't have to make them still have a work ethics? So we did a couple of things. Number one, as soon as they were like two or three years old, every summer, they would go to Alabama and actually stay with my mom and the other relatives. And to this day, the only reason they know those relatives is, we took them down as two or three-year-olds and they went down every summer until they were teenagers. So we lived in a quasi-gated community and everything perfectly landscaped to going to a relatives house where there's a porch with a swing and the front yard as a car in the front yard on blocks and you walk in the living room and there's plastic on it and of course, you've got the picture of Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy on the wall and they got to go see that milk actually doesn't come from the grocery store, there's a cow that that milk comes from and the corn, you actually go out and do it. So I think all of that was good.

 

And probably the only thing that my wife and I, in terms of raising them.  Well, my grandfather worked hard to take care of my father. My father worked hard to take care of us and each person got more and she said, so I want my kids to have more. And we worked it out, but I was more of the mindset that I want them have more, but they have to understand a relationship between their effort and those results.

 

And I think we did a fantastic job of that. We kept them in sports. Matter of fact, I think all of them- even though I played college football at West point, I think all of them were better athletes that I am was. And so we ended up with following all other more fantastic high school athletes, the oldest Herman junior lacrosse and football. He ended up going to West Point and graduated from West point. He's still in the army now, but the army sent him to business school at Duke where he received his MBA and he's now working in the army marketing offices in Chicago and he's a proud father of my three grandchildren. So he turned out okay.

 

The middle child, he was even more in sports in high school. He did track, wrestling, lacrosse, and football. And he went to Earlham College, a small college out in Indiana where he did track and football there and he finished and he's been working for Sodexo who's on the healthcare side and he's been working with them for 12 years. He's a manager environmental services.

 

Then my youngest son, Jonathan, he was football and basketball. He actually played football at West point as well. He actually helped lead West point to their first ball game in about 10 years, his senior year in 2010, when they went to the armed forces fall. And for a dad, I must admit for all of them. It's a great process. I followed these kids around for, you know, 15, 18 years for their sports and seeing Jonathan join the army Navy game on national TV, played Notre Dame and Yankee stadium. You're reliving a little of your own. As you see your kids go out and do these great things. And Jonathan obviously went into the army. He left the army, went to Duke, got his MBA, and he's now working in sales and Dallas with Microsoft. So I couldn't be more happy with that. And look that wasn't just me. There was also my wife, Iris, because I met her in the army after West Point at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and after a year and a half, so courtship, we got married.

 

We went to Korea for two years. Came back to Indianapolis where Herman was born. And then we were both selected to go to graduate school by the army based upon our potential and how we doing. So we settled on Boston and I went to Harvard business school and she went to Tufts. And after that assignment, we both went to West Point where I taught finance and economics and she worked in the admissions office. And then from there, we went to Washington where she worked on the inaugural committee for the Bush-Quayle presidential campaign. And I went to the Pentagon and in later just talking about her, she was a presidential appointee in the Clinton administration. She was the number two person for personnel in the army.

 

So millions of people she was responsible for in terms of personnel policies. So they had an okay dad and they had a terrific mom and a super terrific grandmother. That's where it came from. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

That's wonderful there. Okay, dad, the terrific mom, and the super terrific grandmom have contributed to those three fine young men who they have become.

 

Now, obviously, while you were at West point, in addition to playing football, you eventually became a voice of army sports and coach K called you to want to be on your show? I don't think too many people can say that Herman. 

 

Herman Bulls:

Well, coach, K's having a rough year this year, but I'm happy and by the way, I'm on the board of the center of leadership and ethics down at Duke which coach K is very much associated with and I'm happy to do that because focusing on leadership in that big as you're doing is very, very important. 

 

So, part of what West point used to recruit me from high school, is in high school I had a radio show. As president of student council. I went out and doing new things and  I'm not bashful, never have been and the idea came up, how do we get the idea of what we're doing at school efficiently out into the community? Obviously, we didn't have  Snapchat and Facebook and all these things at the time. So working with the local station- Because they actually broadcast football games and we had a TV show every Sunday night that they would show our games. So we had a relationship. They knew who I was, quarterback, right, and we were able to put a radio show together that I call coffee capers. And I got to tell you, this is so funny. I have some of those tapes today. And if you heard them, you would not understand. My name is Herman Bulls and they is Coffee papers. And we had a weekly show that I would have representatives from sports teams, clubs, cheerleaders, majorettes, whatever, and everyone in the community looked forward to it every week. And we play music. I would do a vote during the week on which songs should I play on the show? And any way. So West Point uses that as another means to attract me. And one of the things that happened is I have to admit that my athletic skills- let's say they didn't come up to the point that I was going to be a starting army navy.

 

So Homer Smith was our coach and he called me in after sophomore year. And said, Herman, you're never going to start an army Navy game. And that was, I got to tell you, I've had a few disappointments in my life, but that was really one. So I had to refocus and I refocus by that summer, I went to ranger school, which is something your listeners to know about. I went down and did that as a cadet, came back and I was associated with the radio station just as a DJ. And I said, hey, I'm going to get more involved because I know all of the football coaches, the players. So I started doing play by play football and basketball. Coach K was a young coach in his second year at West Point and I had a sports show called Thursday night Live where I would interview many of the athletes. I would have them come up and be on my show. “Thursday night, live Herman Bulls”, and coach K, he's trying to get people to come to the basketball and he called me up and asked to be on the show, So of course, you can be on the show.

 

And then after that, I actually traveled with the team those last two years. And we went to the NCAA  tournament both times. So he did a fantastic job and got to know coach K quite well. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

That's a wonderful story. And I know he’s been instrumental, not just as a coach, but also with the ethics that he preaches about leadership and leading with ethics.

 

Now, you also mentioned Herman, that you went through ranger school, and I know that was a significant experience for you as it were before anyone. 

 

Herman Bulls:

Well, you know, anytime I'm having a bad day and again, I have not served actively in combat. I was in Panama. Four days before the Noriega turnover. So I was close to being there. Both of my sons had served in both of the Wars however thinking about what it is to face an obstacle and overcome it. And from a ranger school for your listeners that don't know, this is the most demanding school that the army has, and for the Navy, it would be the SEALS similar corollary or training. And the whole idea is. You do not really understand what your limitations are. And I'm talking about from a psychological, I'm talking about from a physical, I'm talking mental perspective and you are put under realistic conditions that basically challenges each of those. And what you learn. Okay, you can do it in the classroom and say your limitations are actually more than you think they are. You said this person has been under duress. This person has been under physical duress, mental duress and they made it through and they were able to lead and make rational decisions. So it's one of the hardest things I've done in my life. One of the proudest things I've done in my life. Any day, I get up and I think I'm having a rough day, I say ‘you could be in the middle of ranger school’.

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

That's wonderful. Because part of what you did with all those great experiences, then when you ended up going into private sector, you ended up going with Jones, Lang, LaSalle, eventually JLL. 

 

Why did you choose to go into real estate? 

 

Herman Bulls:

Well, that's an interesting story. So as I told you, I was fortunate enough to go to Harvard Business School and preparation to go to West Point to teach. And when I was there, I had this knack for getting involved. So again, I was president of the section- I knew nothing about this stuff and most people that have been there- you know, you go to Harvard, you want to be section president because that means all the investment banks and consulting firms are going to want you because you're a leader among leaders.

 

And had no idea that was what it was. There were like six people ran for section president for my section and usually there's a one-off and people got up and they were looking at their cards and whatever, I mean, talking to 85 people was not- I'd had over 150 people working for me. So I got up there and I had a card in about four or five words on it and I just got up and I guess in retrospect that wowed the audience, but I just got up and said, Hey, I'm Herman Bulls. This is who I am. This is what I'm doing. And then blah, blah, blah. And I got to tell you, it was remarkable. It was kind of autobody experience after I finished, my classmates got up and clapped and gave me a stamp.

 

And, needless to say, I won on the first round over these five people. We'd only been at school like two weeks. You don't really know anybody. And of course the way Harvard does it at Christmas if the section made a mistake, anybody that want to run against you, they can run against you. And I was not challenged.

 

So I got involved in the student government and there was a real estate course and we had two professors and one couldn't do it. So there was only going to be one real estate professors say two sections. And you would've thought that there was a riot going these kids that knew how real estate at the time and I think, you know, tax laws were different, et cetera, et cetera, even though they were going to go do XYZ, they knew they need to learn real estate on the side. So I worked with the administration through the student government to get another professor and they ended up being Don brett. Believe it or not, who is from Washington DC area. And when that all ended, I said, why are all these people so interested in real estate? And I went and basically signed up and was fortunate to get the course and I just fell in love with it. So I was finance kind of concentration and I saw that the real estate was kind of a specialized form of finance and you still interacted with people and you got to see things being built. And when I left the army decided to leave the army, I looked into three professions that were really big in 1985 and probably so big here in 2021 and that was real estate, investment banking or management consulting.

 

So at this time, I've got three kids who are just finished. I'm actually working at the Pentagon at the time. And I'm thinking, well, management consulting, if I do that ought to be on the road all the time. And if I do the investment banking, you don't start investment banking in Washington, DC. Right? You know, that's government relations. You've got to go to New York and I've got these three kids, we live in this beautiful neighborhood. My kids walk two blocks to a school so can't do that. And it came down to real estate and I remembered how much I enjoyed real estate at hardwood and the best thing of all -is particularly as we think about diversity and what we're going through now, even today, there are not a lot of blacks in corporate real estate, and I'll never forget. I was talking to the chairman Stuart, Scott and I'm in this wood panel office on LaSalle Street in Chicago. I say, well, you know what? It's been interesting. You know, I've interviewed with like 25 people and I haven't seen one other black person.

 

That really started as I think back on it. You know, all people ought to do, and again, you do it in a respectful manner, but when you see something, you say something.  And what was really interesting in that we had, I think it was like 11 or 12 managing directors that when we were private firm at the time- we're public now and I interviewed with 10 of those 12. Now, everybody didn't know, it was only 300 professionals from the time. I was going to work in development. So development, I'm like a commander and I'm going to be making decisions that's going to impact their network. And they want to make sure they know the person that's doing it. And I tell people, you know, I didn't see. That is anything bad at all, because when you get the lemons, you make lemonade. And what that allowed me to do all of a sudden, I need 10 of the top partners in the firm. And fortunately, I had a couple of things that went very well. 

 

So, you got allies at an early age and I'm not certain that maybe it wasn't because I'm black, all of them wanted to talk to me, but that may have had something to do with it because you know, I've had other situations of microaggression where people do things that they're not conscious of doing it, but I tell everybody you get those situations again, you get lemons, you make lemonade.

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

Well, I do want to touch on that Herman, because you were a West point graduate who had gone to ranger school, Harvard business school. You had this successful career at what became JLL, vice chairman of Americas, but all throughout, even you face microaggressions. And how did you face it and how do you handle it when you face these microaggressions?

 

Herman Bulls:

I'm going to give you three quick examples. I remember one, I just started with JLL and I was going to New York to meet with somebody about something and I'd been arranging the meeting with the secretary and I walked in, and the first thing she said, "I didn't know you were" and I said “so tall and handsome?” you know, so she wants me to say my voice didn't sound like I was black, the point is you try to use levity. Okay, I'll tell you when it happened like three days ago, I was in a room and somebody walked in and I had some slippers on that had Harvard on it. An individual looked at me, you know, a young, relatively young person and said you know, with a kind of wide look, he said, "you went Harvard?", you know, kind of incredulously, you know, how could you?, and of course, try to use levity. I said, "what do you think?" "what would you say if I told you I went to West point too?", and she just kind of jumped back. It was a young white lady, and you know, it's just, sometimes people do things, we call it unconscious, none awareness, stupidity, whatever you might want to have it. I haven't, you know, external to the firm. I have it sometimes in the firm. You know, I had somebody pretty senior that I wrote an email to and they didn't respond to my email. And they said, “Oh, I thought, you know, Harry was going to do that”. And I got to tell you, as I told you earlier, I kind of call it out now. I mean, if I'm not going to do it, who's going to do it and I told this individual, I said, “you know, that was unfortunate that you did that”. I mean, just the respect of a reply would have been phenomenally important as opposed to you delegating it to somebody to reply to me. People do these things and they don't realize it.

 

And I think what we have to do to be constructive is to have that opportunity to voice an opinion in such a way that it can be a teaching moment. I loved my time teaching at West point, they teach the abstract can teach you the things you wanted. And I gotta tell you, I'm really fortunate today. I've been serving on corporate boards for the last 20 years and I'm in that room and I can tell you that it's a powerful position to be in it and it seems easy, but it's actually hard because as a board member, I don't have to answer any questions. Okay. I don't have to know any answers. But what I need to be able to do is ask the right questions and ask them in such a way that you not only move management, but you move your fellow board members toward the greater union that we're all striving for.

 

So how do I handle it? I try to handle it with, you know, again, Making lemonade out of lemonade used as a teaching moment. As I'm getting more old I'm going to communicate with you.

 

One of my favorite quotes is Maya Angelou. Doesn't matter what you say, doesn't matter what you do, but how you make me feel. Okay. And that is what's last. Okay. How did you make me feel? And that's something that is mine. And I know that that's true. And I could share it with you. I can't say what your intent was, but I can say what the impact was on me as an individual.

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

And It is absolutely critical Herman for successful leaders like you, to point out those microaggressions and to speak truth to power at board levels and elsewhere.

 

There's been a lot of conversation over the past year about the moment that we are in, and this moment needs to be changed to a movement. There are a lot of organizations that have made great statements of their beliefs. If you still look at their board of directors and their senior representation, it doesn't match the belief statements that they've shared. So it is up to us to continue advocating and continue pushing for the progress in the reality of the organizations, not just the words that are spoken.

 

Herman Bulls:

So true. We've had these incidents similar to the George Floyd type thing that was spirited over the last, you know, 20, 30 years, and as I think about my colleagues at the Executive Leadership Council, which is an organization of 800 of the most senior African-American executives in America, and we talk about what is the classic textbook response, those types of things, that corporations- first thing they do is bring their black employees together, ask them what should they do? Tell them-Okay, We've got it. Make a statement and make a donation to-you know, NAACP or some other social justice. And then we wait six weeks later, the news cycle changes, and things kind of revert back to the meat.

 

And I got to tell you, I think it's been a little different this time and what I think leaders should do in those situations.  I have the opportunity to coach/ advise you know, fortune 500 CEOs myself from my board positions and what the solution, in my opinion, should be to honor our vision and values that we have. And when I bring those impacted employees together, I don't ask them, what should I do? I tell them, this is what I stand for. This is what this organization stands for, and this is what we're going to do. I would appreciate your feedback on that. Notice that subtle difference. One, somebody is looking for an answer because they're in a very uncomfortable situation. The other you're espousing the foundational merits of the organization and saying how we're going to behave as a group. And that's how you impact culture. And the culture is what makes the organization. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

And you also mentioned when you talking about culture and doing the right things, you mentioned the executive leadership council, which you, the recipient of its achievement award. People like Grant Hill, Robert Smith Vernon Jordan, Magic Johnson, Ken Chenault, Bernard Tyson, and now, Herman Bulls. 

 

Herman Bulls:

Just hearing you and thanks for saying that, but I get chills right now being even considered amongst those great people. Carla Harris, my good friend from Morgan Stanley. She's also a recent winner of it and it's just, these people are just phenomenal human beings. They've given so much not only for their own professional career, but really standing up and giving for others. you know, I had few words in my life, truly to this point has been the pinnacle for not only what it represents because that award was given from my colleagues and my peers.

 

The hardest leadership in the world is that of our peers, I've got a saying I've been saying lately and particularly I think for women of minorities, you go from being the pet to threat. And when you're the pet, people above you want to groom you and pet you and be nice to you and help you. But as you rise in the organization- I've certainly had this in my career, as you rise through the organization, those who were petting you, you become a threat to them, and their behavior changes. So how do you as an underrepresented minority or as a woman, how you behave and react to that, kind of dictates how successful you're going to be in your organization? But when the ELC selected me for that award- you know, I just owe so much to so many people starting with my wife and my family. 

 

In my acceptance speech. I shared some of the things I did about my mom and my family and my high school football coach, buddy Moore, 1970 two and three, he's going to make the decision to start a black quarterback. it wasn't on there. There were other things that went into that back in the day. And basically, he said he caught a little crap for starting me at quarterback back in the 70s in the community. So you're the salmon, you're going upstream. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

And you have gone up that stream marvelously have had a great career, great impact on a lot of others.

 

So if you were to give advice to a younger Herman Bulls that who was very active, both in sports academics, doing really well. What advice would you give to your younger self or to younger leaders as they are looking to have the kind of impactful career that you have had Herman? 

 

Herman Bulls:

I'm going to do it in two areas. And the first thing I'm gonna talk about is networking versus connecting. We all know what networking is, right? It's meeting people so that they can "help you". Networking has a very transactional nature to it, and that's not bad. It's not bad at all. However, I have subscribed and I finally understood about 20 years ago to a concept I call connecting. And when you connect, you do something for someone without regard to what you're going to receive. Now think about that for a second. Now I'm in business development and half of the time that I'm doing- I've got two big things- I'm working on three big things I'm working on this week. And each one of those was the prospective client calling me, as opposed to me calling them. And that is because I connected with these individuals. And when you connect with someone, it's not just the business aspect of it. 

 

So I'd advise the young me to do some of the things that I did, I probably could do better as well. You know, the written note has become archaic. So when something happens and somebody does something nice for you, there's nothing like a nice handwritten note. We know George Bush, he was proliferating in terms of writing those notes. So I would do that because you differentiate yourself. So think of that. 

 

Then the next one would be a little more of -I talk about six characteristics, I think are important for success for anyone. And it starts with your interpersonal skills and that's that ability to get along with people. Become a lifelong learner. You will always have something to say, and you'll be able to talk to the CEO. That's the interpersonal skill. Next thing, your communication skills. My mom used to often tell me you have two ears and one mouth and think about using them in that proportion. Right? So become a good writer. Become a great speaker oratory and then become a great listener. So those are your communication skills. Next is your analytical skills, make sure you get feedback and analytics don't just think of it as quantitative as numbers, you know, majority of the things that you and I do in our life every day, doesn't involve numbers, it involves looking at a situation, getting the facts- that's why history majors can do so well. They know how to take these abstract things, analyze them, come to conclusion, and articulate. So those analytical skills are still important. And next thing is just critical. And having had the opportunity to go to what I think is the best leadership laboratory in the world- West Point. Leadership is important. And leadership is that ability to help a group accomplish a common goal.  Think about that and you don't have to always be in charge to do the lead. You can lead from the front. You can lead from the middle, you can lead from the rear.

 

And then this is one that is critical and that's entrepreneurship or risktaking. You know, if I hadn't gone out and started, you know, we haven't talked about a couple of companies I started -you know, I was making a good salary, very comfortable. But  I put my reputation and other things on the line to go out and say, Hey, I'm going to go start this company. So being able to take risks and, you know, I've jumped out of airplanes too, but you don't jump out of an airplane without a parachute. So you gotta have mitigating factors for those risks. 

 

And then the last thing. You got to have passion because passion is contagious. It gets others to rally around you. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

And anyone that hears this conversation, Herman can tell you have a lot of that passion and wonderful leadership advice that you just shared.

 

In addition to that, are there any leadership resources, whether for your sons or others, when they ask you, I want to become a better leader? Obviously, West point is great and ranger school was outstanding, but are there any books, any. other resources that you typically find yourself recommending for people to improve their leadership?

 

Herman Bulls:

One thing that I would fault myself on-and my wife is so good at it is I don't do as good a job of reading books as I probably should. And as I get closer to retirement and doing that, I read the wall street journal and Washington post every day, because you gotta be able to tell people what I do, and you gotta be able to connect that.

 

So you gotta know what's going on in the world, but I would say I think back to the tipping point. Okay. Just in terms of all of his books, just. Looking at them and that ability to self analyze yourself and say, you know, what am I doing? And, you know, it's not always about me, but you know, most successful people, I tell there's a fine line between confidence and arrogance and his books helped me kind of see that, but you got to go up to that line all the time.

 

You can't hold back and say, well, I'm not going to be too confident because they're going to think American and I got to tell you for your women and minority listeners out there, I can tell you that's been one that I think in many ways I get misunderstood on because I'm a confident black man and sometimes the competent person of another persuasion can do or say exactly the same thing, but it's perceived totally different.

 

And that comes from the unconscious bias that the recipient comes to it from. I would say a lot of my research is from those periodicals that I would just tell people to go on those lifelong experiences and have the courage. When you get that review and you don't really agree with it, have the courage to go ask, what exactly is it I need to do.

 

I don't want to just be good. I want to be excellent. And what you'll see, I use a lot, particularly in this time that we're in is if I see something on Facebook or LinkedIn that I like and it's a black person hashtag black excellence. So that's what I want my kids to think about. That's what everybody needs to think about. So everybody needs to think about excellence, but I want people from my community to think about that, like excellence, and be unabashedly proud of who they are and then go from there.

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

As you said, Herman, it's important to recognize that excellence, who we celebrate, who we talk about, says a lot about us.

 

So it's important to celebrate people that represent in this case, black success, as you have done yourself, and to celebrate the young men, you and your wife have raised because. That's the next generation of leadership, setting the pace for other leaders to see what's potentially possible. If they're willing to work hard, if they're willing to speak their truth and achieve success like you have, I really appreciate you sharing some of your story with the partnering leadership community. Herman, thank you so much for joining me in this conversation. 

 

Herman Bulls:

Thank you.