Jeremy Eden and Terri Long: An interview by Bob Morris


Jeremy-EdenJeremy Eden and Terri Long are co-founders and co-CEOs of Harvest Earnings Group, Inc. Jeremy has decades of consulting and performance improvement experience in business and government including at McKinsey and Company. Terri was in the corporate banking world for eighteen years before joining Jeremy in 2000. They met in the mid-90s when Terri was the client and an SVP at what is now U.S. Bancorp. Jeremy was the consultant assigned to work with her on the bank’s earnings improvement project.

Terri-Long

Jeremy and Terri quickly realized that they were in lock step about how companies could grow earnings and improve the customer experience. Company insiders, not outside consultants, had the answers. Employees when given the right tools have hundreds of ideas to help their companies succeed. But, senior executives needed a well-designed process to get those answers. Furthermore, the process should result in ideas that grow revenue and improve the customer experience not just ideas to be more efficient. Jeremy and Terri have built that process. Big believers in “two heads are better than one”, they are often asked how it works to be Co-CEOs. Their answer? It works perfectly. Mostly simpatico, occasionally they are the yin to the other’s management yang. Their clients benefit!

Jeremy and Terri are considered two of the most practical and straightforward business thinkers in the field. Jeremy and Terri co-authored Low-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits, published in March 2014 by Wiley Publishing. Before all this started, Jeremy earned his B.A. in History at Yale University and his M.B.A. at Yale School of Management. Terri earned her B.A. in Finance at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of them. To read the complete interview, please click here.

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Morris: Before discussing Low-Hanging Fruit, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Eden: Without a doubt, my parents have been the greatest influence on my personal growth. The values that they live, the love they share, and the endless support they give. Just as an example of the latter, my father who is 90 and my mother who is 89, carefully read our manuscript and then gave us rave reviews combined with detailed suggestions to make it better.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Long: I have been fortunate to have had several wonderful mentors through the years. Mike Clawson, who was President of Firstar Bank in Illinois, made a huge difference in both my professional career and at how I look at business issues. Specifically, in terms of career, he gave me incredible flexibility after I gave birth to my first child which kept me sane and kept me in the workforce. As if that weren’t enough, he put me on a very special project that resulted in me meeting Jeremy!

Eden: I would have to say, again, my parents. My mother was an advertising copywriter (during the Mad Men years!) who taught me the awesome power of carefully using words to persuade, argue, and motivate. My father was an engineer who ignited my passion in math and science at an early age and who showed me that the key to those passions lay even more in boundless curiosity than in logic and rationality.

Of course, your question probably was meant to elicit a professional and I would say that McKinsey & Co, though not exactly a “who”, had the greatest impact as it was my first experience in business and showed me both the power of disciplined problem-solving and the big gap, that hopefully we are now helping to fill, between the goal and the achievement of employee engagement.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Eden: Well, funny you should phrase the question that way because I usually say that when I was at McKinsey, I “had an epiphany – probably over a couple of beers” The epiphany was that big companies did not need advice from newly minted MBA consultants or even from seasoned partners. Big companies already have more expertise than they know what to do with. What they needed was a process so that they would know what to do with all of the expertise they had. In particular, a process built on the problem-solving skills that McKinsey was keeping to itself. I had a chance to test this theory out when I was at McKinsey while constructing a process for a client. Instead of them trying to teach me about their business, I would discuss with them a much more effective way to use the knowledge and insights of their employees. It worked incredibly well and that led to the decision to create a business and a career around helping big companies create the process and culture that took seriously the oft-said and equally oft-ignored claim that “our people are our most important asset.” That really is true if they are allowed to be.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Eden: I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Yale College and Yale School of Management so clearly having a great formal education has been important. But I actually feel that the reading and math learning that I did on my own was even more valuable as that is how I learned how to learn which is the most important life skill we all need. I’m not sure that our formal education programs teach that effectively. In addition, I believe that formal education also focuses far too much on giving good answers rather than on asking good questions.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Long: On the one hand, if I had known how big the world is, how many incredibly opportunities are available, and about how utterly impossible it is to know the consequences of any career decision, I would probably worried a bit less about those first career choices. On the other hand, if a cake is to bake for an hour and you pull it out sooner you just wind up with bad cake. The timing of events has been great, if completely serendipitous, and I wouldn’t change anything. For example, if a project Jeremy led had started just a few months later I would not have met him and there wouldn’t be a Harvest Earnings or Low-Hanging Fruit!

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Eden: Important business principles are not about spreadsheets or strategy or business models – they are about human behaviors. When Harry Met Sally dramatizes two critical behaviors that our work and our book bring to life. Harry and Sally met … and then ignored each other. Even after reconnecting they took a long time to see the great qualities each had. Even when hired with great fanfare and enthusiasm, the great qualities that employees have are too frequently ignored until the relationship between the company and their employees withers away. Companies must learn new behaviors that enable them to see, cherish, and give expression to their employee’s talents.

At the end of the movie, Harry proposes to Sally by saying, “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” That sense of urgency is a behavior that seems so right for the scene but which is lacking in so many businesses. Yes, everyone is stressed out and busy, but that is different than feeling an urgency driven by an overwhelming desire.

Morris: From which non- business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Eden: Well, this may be an odd answer, but I have always loved and studied math – even to this day – and the math books I use have taught me two valuable lessons about business. The first is that problems that initially seem impossible for me to solve usually do have solutions and often ones that are easy to understand once found. In business we find that even the slightest resistance to finding a solution often convinces managers that there is no solution, or at least none worth trying to figure out. Managers set expectations far too low because they cannot quickly and easily see a way to solve the problem of meeting much higher expectations. The second is that problem-solving is rarely a matter of logic and straightforward thinking. Initially one doodles, daydreams, or tries to get a different perspective before the solution snaps into place ready to be verified by logic.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Long: We love this quote! We use the last part about the best leaders in our training. When a great building is built all you see for a long while is the scaffolding that holds it up. We have designed our firm and our process so that we can be the scaffolding which is taken down as soon as the building can stand on its own. Everyone can admire the architect, the builders, the building – but the scaffolding has long since been torn down. When our projects are over, the teams of employees are truly the architects and builders who can take pride that “we have done this ourselves.”

Morris: From Howard Aiken: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”

Eden: We wrote our book so people will steal – well, let’s say “borrow” – our ideas!

Long: I think most people actually love a great new idea faster than this quote implies. Think about the success of infomercials! People love clever new ways to solve problems.

Morris: From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Eden: Often true (of course sometimes a dangerous idea is just a dangerous idea!). We are somewhere between yesterday and today with our Idea Harvest!

Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”

Eden: One of my favorite quotes (and growing up my favorite author by far). It is not the “Eureka!” answer but the “that’s odd” curiosity that drives all progress whether in science, business, or anywhere else.

Long: Jeremy actually says “that’s weird…” all the time. This is so true but of course, the stereotype of “Eureka” makes for much better storytelling.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Long: There’s a reason that Drucker was a leading management guru and this quote captures it. Part of our Idea Harvest™ discipline is to follow a checklist and the very first item is to eliminate things that shouldn’t be done rather than to improve them. It is astonishing how many things in business live on far longer than they should. The IT version of this quote is “don’t pave the cowpaths” which is another way to say that we shouldn’t automate activities that shouldn’t be done in the first place. Companies can save a bundle on IT if they followed this rule.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

Jeremy and Terri cordially invite you to check out the resources at their website. Here’s a link.

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