Leading with purpose, from commanding in a war zone to fighting corporate corruption with Joe Gardemal | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

Leading with purpose, from commanding in a war zone to fighting corporate corruption with Joe Gardemal | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Joe Gardemal. Joe serves as a managing director in the Washington DC office of Alvarez and Marcel and has over 30 years of experience in accounting, including in forensic accounting. He is a veteran of the Iraq war and is a recipient of a bronze star for his command during the Iraq campaign. Currently, Joe is the court-appointed independent monitor over GPB Capital Holdings.  


Some highlights:

-Joe Gardemal talks about how to take advantage of post-traumatic stress growth.

-Using the experience and lessons learned in the conflict zone to be more resilient and effective as a leader in the corporate world. 

-Joe Gardemal as an advocate for the investors and his mindset on protecting their interests.

-Having an objective and the willingness to modify your behavior to achieve your goal.  

-Joe Gardemal’s take on how to be impactful as a leader.


Also Mentioned in this Episode:

-The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

-Partnering Leadership conversation with John Veihmeyer



Connect with Joe Gardemal:

Joe Gardemal @ Alvarez & Marsal Disputes and Investigations

Joe Gardemal @ LinkedIn


Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:

MahanTavakoli.com


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

PartneringLeadership.com



Transcript

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Welcome to partnering leadership. I am really excited to be welcoming Joe Gardemal. Joe serves as a managing director in the Washington DC office of Alvarez and Marcel. Joe has over 30 years experience in accounting, including in forensic accounting. And right now he is the court appointed independent monitor over GPB capital holdings, which is a private equity enterprise with over one $1.8 billion in capital raised. Joe  also served in the us army. He's a veteran of the Iraq war, where as a major, he commanded a company in the ninth, psychological operations  battalion. For that he received a bronze star and the Iraq campaign medal with two campaign stars, and his unit received the Navy presidential unit citation.

Joe is a real hero and a wonderful leader. I really enjoyed this conversation with him and I am sure you will too. I also really enjoy hearing from you. Keep your comments coming. Mahan at mahantavakoli.com. There's also a microphone icon on partnering leadership.com. You can leave voice messages for me there, love hearing your voice messages. 

And when you get a chance, don't forget to do two things. One follow the podcast, that way you will ensure that you will be first to be notified of new releases. [00:02:00] Tuesdays with greater Washington, DC DMV Changemakers like Joe and Thursdays with global thought leaders, primarily leadership book authors.

And two, when you get a chance, those of you that listened to this on apple, scroll down, leave a rating and review that will help more people find these conversations and benefit from them. 

Now, here is my conversation with Joe Gardemall.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Joe Gardemal my friend, welcome to partnering leadership. I am thrilled to be having this conversation with you.

 

Joe Gardemal:

Thank you. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

First would love to know whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing impacted the kind of person and leader you've become.

 

Joe Gardemal:

Sure.  Well, First the story is not that interesting, but I was born in New Orleans and I was raised first in the city and then in the suburbs  until I went to college  my parents were both New Orleans natives as were their parents.  I guess my grandfather was from St. Martinville from Western Louisiana.

And  my mom was a school secretary, my dad was an enlisted man in the army.  And we were fortunate that he was in New Orleans for his entire career. He was an active national guard soldier.  And So we grew up in the suburbs and had  a typical upbringing in that time, in the late sixties, early seventies.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So now you decided to go to Loyola, which to a certain extent might make sense, but why did you want to study business administration and then focus on accounting too?

 

Joe Gardemal: 

Sure.  So growing up in New Orleans, you go to Catholic school, that's  a given. And so, my parents made sacrifices to send me and my younger brother to Catholic school for elementary school and for high school. And  we both went to one of the competitive high schools in New Orleans.

So unlike much of the rest of the world, where you compete to get into the great colleges, in New Orleans, you compete to get into the great high schools. And I was fortunate enough to get into a school called Brother Martin, where  I'm still involved with the alumni today, 35 or more years, 37 years after I graduated.

And so I had always planned to stay in New Orleans. My family had been there for many generations. I had no expectation that I would ever leave. And so in New Orleans Loyola, a Catholic university    is a very good place  for local people to go.  And I also had an academic scholarship there.

So fortunately it paid all my tuition.  And so that helped me make that decision, which was much easier. And I majored in business.  I hate to say this because people will hear this, but I needed to get a job. And I only had four years.  There were not then and there are not now unemployed accountants.

And so I majored in accounting figuring that I could do the things that I might be passionate about during my off hours. And so 33 years later here I am a CPA. 

 

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Absolutely Joe. I had a conversation a couple of months back with John Veihmeyer who became the global chairman eventually of KPMG. And that's exactly the reason why he pursued accounting too. And he said he gave that advice to his kids, but none of them followed it. And that's why when they graduated from college, they were like that.

Now, what do we do?

 

Joe Gardemal: 

My oldest has followed me. He studied accounting, so I'm  very happy about that. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Yeah. So now you mentioned your oldest. One of the fun things about you is that  you have three sons that you adore. A son in college, a son in high school, and a son in kindergarten.

 

Joe Gardemal: 

I do. Yes. I'm very proud of all three of them. Yeah. My oldest Joseph is   finishing his sophomore year at the University of Maryland studying accounting. And my middle son is graduating from Churchill high school here in Potomac, Maryland and he's going on to Northeast, where he got some nice scholarship money, very excited about that.

And then  my baby Rowan goes to kindergarten at the Catholic school, around the corner from our house.  And fortunately  he's been able to go to school in person all year this year, and I think that's made a real difference. So we're very happy about that.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Yeah. Another element that is beautiful about you, Joe, is that you truly embraced diversity with all of your relationships.

 

Joe Gardemal: 

I do we have an interesting family. My older boys are Jewish, their mom is Jewish and my wife is Hindu and Rowan the baby and I are both Catholic. So when we introduce ourselves to you, it's two Catholics, two Jews and a Hindu, which sounds like it's a joke about going into a bar or a synagogue or something, but not quite.

It's our family. And we love it. It gives us the opportunity to celebrate a lot of different things and a lot of different paths to the same place. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And it gives you the ability, Joe, very effectively to  empathize and connect with people of all backgrounds. Now I'm curious right into college early on, you decided to join the army. Why was that?

 

Joe Gardemal: 

I did. So my father was in the army from the munchies from 1958, I think he started.  And so he served for 30 plus years.  And his father was in the infantry in world war II and served in France.  During  the late stages of world war I and all of my father's brothers and brothers-in-law, and most people in the family  had served in the military either in world war two or Korea.

And it was just something I always wanted to do. I wanted to be like those guys. I had a great deal of respect for them and frankly, I wanted to be like them. And so after my first year of college, I joined the army.

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And did you expect at that point that you would ever end up serving  in a war zone?

 

Joe Gardemal: 

I don't know. That was 1985 and Reagan was President and the military was being built up again for the first time in 20 plus years. And it was a great time to join. I think  we might've thought we would fight the Soviets one day. It didn't turn out that way, but yeah, I didn't really have any expectations when I joined one way or the other. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And eventually, so you ended up  serving in Iraq, commanding a company in the ninth, psychological operations battalion. What was that? And what was your mission?

 

Joe Gardemal:

Sure. It was an interesting  way I got there. I served for the first 14 years in the field artillery  which was a little bit different than psychological operations, much more kinetic.   But when I moved to DC in 1998  I found a psychological operations unit in the area and joined that and those units support army special operations command.

Priority, money, and training and stuff like that. So it was pretty high speed. And I was attracted to the unit because of that.  Ultimately after September 11th, actually my second son is a September 11th baby, which is a different story. But after September 11th, we knew we would get mobilized. We got mobilized about a year later.

And we spent some time at Fort Bragg and then we deployed to Kuwait.  And my unit was initially assigned to support the first Marine division, not withstanding the fact that we were in the army.  Ultimately we supported all of the first Marine expeditionary force, a larger unit for the first phases of a war.

So essentially we ended up in the desert in February.  We crossed the border on the first day of the war, March 20th or 21st  of 2003. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Now you were also awarded the bronze star and your unit received the Navy presidential unit citation. What was that for?

 

Joe Gardemal: 

Sure.  So I was the, one of the bronze star because my soldiers perform  very well.    While we were overseas, we were the only PSYOP unit  supporting the map. So essentially, if you think about the liberation of Iraq.  There were two major units. There were some army forces and then there were Marine forces and we supported all the Marine forces.

And my guys did some incredible things and I have a picture on my wall across from me, one of my soldiers on the cover of Newsweek on the day that the statue of Saddam came down in Ferno square in April of 2003.    And those guys just did an amazing job supporting the Marines and protecting frankly, Iraqi people by helping them get out of the way.

Of some of the fighting through our broadcast and our messaging    and the work, those guys being really reflected on the unit and resulted in me receiving the award that I did. 

 

 

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Said like the true humble leader that you are. Joe, obviously leadership  makes a difference.  They deserve the credit for a lot of the work. So does their leader.

 

Joe Gardemal: 

Look, frankly, my job was to keep them as safe as I could  and focused on the mission as best as I could and providing the best support To the Marines that we could  and   that's what we did and that's what everybody did in the unit.    And I think   the way the Marines thought about us after that reflects on that Jim Mattis was our division commander  the former secretary of defense, one of the men I most admire in my life.

And he was very complimentary to my soldiers.  When we left the unit in late in 2003.

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Now, Joe, it's very difficult for a lot of different reasons to transition back after having been in conflict zone into the professional world again. How were you able to transition?

 

 Joe Gardemal: 

So that's a great question Mahan, because I love to talk about this.  People in the media, and in other places you hear a lot about post-traumatic stress disorder. And a lot of guys and women really suffered as a result of their service in the war. They experienced things that were really terrible and things that take sometimes a lifetime to overcome.

Sometimes it is never overcome.  But there's another facet of that service that doesn't get talked about very much in the media or any place else in general Mattis called this post-traumatic stress growth. And he's absolutely right. I have found  that since I've been back many things that were hard for me before conflict type stuff, for example, I'm not very hard anymore.

I think  that experience gives you an appreciation for the lives that we have. For the opportunities we have for all of the amazing things we have every day that most people never get.  And it makes some of it much easier. You want to fight with me at work? You want to yell at me, okay. Knock yourself out.

It's not a big deal. And so I think that post-traumatic stress growth is something  that really helps people perform after that type of experience. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

What a beautiful perspective on it Joe, I'm a big advocate for antifragility, which is becoming stronger as a result of the breakage and becoming more capable. So it seems like you have used those experiences and lessons learned in conflict to become even more resilient, an effective leader back in the professional environment.

 

Joe Gardemal: 

So it's interesting. You just used the word anti-fragility because I don't even know what that means, frankly, but  what I know is that   we learn from our experiences    and they can either have a negative impact on you or a positive impact, but if they have a negative impact on you, you haven't learned anything, you haven't grown from them. And that's what it's all about.  I try to teach my kids to the same thing  life's not always easy.  But every day is a lesson one way or the other. And    I try to live that way. Don't succeed every day but I try.

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That's fantastic. Now, also in the transition that you had  professionally from New Orleans to DC, there were a lot of bumps along the road the first few years, too.

 

Joe Gardemal: 

There were  when I moved to DC in 1998, I moved here. I'd been working in new Orleans.  As a CPA and spent a couple of years in government there    and the economy there is just not what it is in the DC region, where I live now.  And so I moved here looking for economic opportunity and had lots of those opportunities presented to me.

In 98, the market was great and five firms interviewed me and I went home after a week with five job offers and I accepted one. And then I ended up here. And what I didn't have was anybody who I knew. I knew about two guys  in DC, one guy who had been in the army with, and one guy who I went to school with.

And it took some time to redevelop the social networks and the professional networks  that I had in New Orleans from having lived there all my life.  The other side of it though is, you might hear that. I speak with something of an accent. This accent in New Orleans identifies me with a particular group from a particular part of town, which isn't the best part of town. 

Here in DC, people think I'm from Boston or New York, and it's an advantage. So there are positives and negatives to making that change. And it was tough, but  some of it wasn't tough.

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

Yeah, that's wonderful. But through that experience, eventually you ended up at Alvarez and Marcel. When it effectively was a startup in DC, why would you leave more established firm to go to what would be a startup?

 

Joe Gardemal: 

I don't know. So I was a foreigner in the consulting group at a large law firm in DC. And one of my friends who I hadn't seen in a while, call me one day to have lunch. And. he wanted to have a lunch at the Mayflower. And at the time. Geez. I want to say we were both about 40. And so we were about 20 Years too young to be having lunch at the Mayflower and no offense to the Mayflower.

And so I showed up at lunch and it was an ambush. And it was my friend and a recruiter for Alvarez and Marcel. And he was  very gregarious and a fun guy.    But I was offended and I walked away.  A few months later they approached me again and  it was a good  time to take a risk.

So I went from a big fancy Portner office  in the water building in DC.  Into some shared space where I had a table and a chair, and I literally did not have a drawer to put my pencils in.  And  it was a great decision. The firm has grown from a thousand people to almost 6,000 people in the 15 years I've been there.

 And in DC, we've grown from just a few folks to about 150 or so now. So it was  it was a risk, accountants don't like to take risks, but I did that time and  it was the best risk I've ever taken.

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And over fifteen years you've tackled some major cases that have exposed significant public corruption, including one that became really famous with Rita. Kronwall.

 

Joe Gardemal: 

Yes. Yeah. So I work in really two areas. I do forensic accounting investigations. Oftentimes they involve fraud sometimes it's accounting stuff with the SEC, for example, but the Kronwall case was an interesting one. This has been profiled on American greed and that's a wall street journal articles about it, but essentially  the treasurer of a small town in Illinois was able to steal close to 50 million dollars by creating false invoices  and was able to maintain the fraud for many years  before it was detected.  Ultimately  the outside accountants ended up paying a significant amount to settle the case. And I worked for  one of the parties through whom much of the money flow, but yeah, it's very interesting case.

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Yeah. And currently Joe you're serving as court appointed independent monitor over a GPB capital holdings and they have over $1.8 billion in capital that they had raised. What is that case all about?

 

Joe Gardemal: 

Sure. So what I can say about it as this  GPB capital holdings, raised about $1.8 billion from 17,000 retail investors.  So people essentially  families    and private investors, and  that money was used to purchase a large number of assets. Dozens of car dealerships is one of the assets there.

And in early 2001  the CEO of the company was arrested and charged with certain financial crimes.  The company was charged civilly by the securities and exchange commission  with securities law violations and as part of that process  the company and the sec negotiated and ultimately the company consented, they're having me appointed as the monitor. 

So essentially what my team and I do is we, provide oversight  under the terms of an order issued by the court  for the company's operations in order to protect those 17,000 limited partners. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And it must be very rewarding for you. This is just one example of a lot of work that you have continually done over the years where you serve as an advocate for the investors and people whose money would be at risk without you  being on their side.

 

Joe Gardemal: 

That's right. And in this case, this is a really interesting week, when I was appointed as a monitor, there were a number of articles in the wall street journal and other media  about it. And my wife and I had dinner with some friends that weekend. And   the husband had read one of the articles and it turns out that he and his father had invested money in GPB, capitalist, significant amount of it in GPB capital. 

And I say this  as I do the work, I think about my friend and his father.  When I think about how to protect those limited partners, It's not abstract to me.  I know who those people are.  And so  it's important to represent their interest and try to protect them as best we can. 

 

Mahan Tavakoli:

Now. I know every job has its  hardship assignments and you've had to travel over over the years quite a bit for your job,  testified as an expert witness  to US district courts. And I understand you had a hardship assignment for the Supreme court of Bermuda.

 

Joe Gardemal: 

I did. This was some years ago. This was a big fraud case. In fact, we had a witness who was killed  during the course of this case , it involved corruption in Latin America.  It was in fact a hardship assignment. I stayed in a really nice hotel in Hamilton Bermuda and over the course of two weeks or so, I was sequestered from the rest of the folks on our team.

I got to spend two weeks in a hotel essentially by myself in Bermuda. So it could have been fun, but it really wasn't. 

 

 Mahan Tavakoli:

I'm sure people buy that story. I used to have to go to Bermuda quite often, Joe. And  I would tell people they were business trips that I would be staying in,Haliton at the hotel, typically  Hamilton princess. And  it didn't matter or just the weather, the beautiful flowers, the smells off of the ocean. I think there's a reward in that.

 

Joe Gardemal: 

I don't know.  The trial in this case apparently was too big to be held in the Supreme court facility. So it was held in a salvation army hall in Hamilton and only one floor only the courtroom had air conditioning and this was in the summer.    I've been to better places, but I'd love to go back and vacation.

I have yet to go there on vacation, but one day we're going to make it happen. 

 

 Mahan Tavakoli: 

It is a gorgeous island and wonderful people there too. Now, Joe, if you were asked to give advice to your younger self  signing up for the army early on and going through school at Loyola  to become impactful, as you have been  a significant leader in the community, what advice would you give to your younger self?

 

Joe Gardemal: 

I give myself two pieces of advice. The first piece of advice would be to calm down. Everything that goes wrong is not the end of the world.  This is a long game. I've been doing this now for 33 years. And if I had not worried so much about some of the small things earlier on in my career, I think it would have been an easier ride. And so that's one piece of advice to just calm down, relax. 

And the second piece of advice, I think this sort of goes with that is  when you start something, think about what the objective is.  Where do I want to be at the end of this process? And if I do that,  then I can  modify my behavior on the journey and focus on that end point, rather than getting really excited about a bump here or a bump there when I know I'm getting to that objective. So those are really  the two things I think I've learned over all these years may not be very much, but at least it's something I think.

 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

There significant both with respect to where you want to head and also the calmness that you need in putting things in perspective, as you head in that direction. Now, are there also leadership resources that you find yourself often recommending for people to become more impactful leaders?

 

Joe Gardemal: 

Yeah.   I am not a guy who's read a lot of business books and I don't frankly focus very much  on that side of things  what I have learned, it's been mostly learned by watching people.  By watching people who had more experience than me, even sometimes people who have almost no experience  and just I see things in people that I think, geez, that's a great idea. And I try to learn that way. And frankly, it's the way I try to teach the people on my team as well. I try to model the things that I think would be useful for them  to experience and to be like.  I had a lot of really bad bosses in my life.

And I had some really great ones too, but I've learned from all of them. So I think that experiential learning is really the thing to do.  I read many years ago, the seven habits of highly effective people, for example, I remember the last one sharpen, the saw it's the one I'm the worst at probably, but yeah, I mostly learned by  watching others and I hope that the people who work with me  do some of that. 

 

 Mahan Tavakoli: 

The times that I've had the honor of serving on boards with you and watching you and action, I have found myself learning a lot, Joe, which is why I truly appreciate you taking the time to share some of your leadership background and experience with the partnering leadership community. Thank you so much, Joe Gardemal. 

 

Joe Gardemal: 

Thanks Mahan. And the feeling is mutual by the way. So thank you.

 

You've been listening to partnering leadership with your host Mohan tavakoli for additional leadership insights and bonus content. Visit us@partneringleadership.com. [00:24:00]