Mastering Business Growth with Howard Shore

Howard Shore, Founder and CEO of Activate Group Inc. discusses managing, even mastering, business growth and the challenges growing quickly can present on Alan Olsen‘s American Dreams Show.


Alan Olsen

Welcome to American Dreams. My guest today is Howard Shore. Howard, welcome to today’s show.


Howard Shore

Alan, thank you for having me.


Alan Olsen

Howard, you’re author, a business coach, but can you give us some background and how you got to where you are today?


Howard Shore

Thank you for asking. It’s been quite a journey. Ironically, if people looked at my, you know, the accolades that we normally put up, you know, our degrees, where we’ve been what we’ve accomplished, they’d be like, Wow, but there’s always a backstory.

And I think it’s the backstory that’s important. And I’m going to go all the way back to when I was young. So if it weren’t for my mom, I would have wound up in special education.

I was dyslexic, had severe ADHD. And, actually, ironically, even at a young age, I had sleep apnea. So I used to fall asleep uncontrollably class, and people thought it was because I didn’t go to bed early at night. But that wasn’t the truth.

And so it started there, where my mom really set the stage, that you know, this person does have a brain and doesn’t belong in special education.

And, and I probably fought that all the way through childhood, I didn’t have great grades wasn’t a typical person, you would expect to go to college. And And ironically, when it was time to do that, my dad actually talked me out of it.

But but if you even go back a step before that, I get to learn exactly how leadership shouldn’t work.

I worked in my dad’s business, I actually managed apartments for him as a kid was very toxic work environment, high turnover, people, including me not treated very well.

Always having cashflow problems. And so I got a really good education on how not to do it and kind of figured out pretty quickly, I didn’t want to replicate that.

And so now fast forward, my dad talks me out of going to college, and he’s like, you know, I’ve got this business you can buy with the money you’ve saved up, you get a pretty cheap, go do it. And that was a really incredible lesson for me.

I really didn’t know anything about business, and I hadn’t been to school, I didn’t know how to read financial statements. I didn’t love my industry, I didn’t know much about it. And here I was, I owned a business in this industry.

So you learn a lot from going that to that. First of all, if I were to go back, knowing what I know, today, I would never even entered that was typesetting and graphic design. typesetting doesn’t exist anymore. Took me about three years to figure that out.

And I wound up selling the business because I realized I was down a dead path in something I didn’t love. And even though I was growing 100% A quarter, I knew that was gonna run its course. And I knew I needed to learn a lot more.

And then, and I had this gentleman that I worked with. The name was Mike and I wanted to be like Mike, he was actually our accountant. But he was so much more to me than my accountant, no matter he was a certified mediator.

He was, which he was countin he had certifications and everything you can imagine. So any question that I had, I would go to Mike. And then for some reason I had this impression, because I was young, that that’s what an accountant was.

And I realized that I really did not understand I understood how to market sell, you know, create product and service and all of that kind of stuff. I didn’t understand the financial. So I said, You know what, I’m gonna go to school.

I’m gonna study accounting. And it was all because of Mike. So so I’m very grateful to Mike for, for doing that. For me, I should have figured out very, very quickly, while I needed that knowledge, it wasn’t the right profession for me.

And, and KPMG should have been doing assessments when they hired me, because eventually I became a CPA, all of that. But I never went to class, I was so bored.

I found it. So disinteresting I just had the intellect to understand what I needed to understand to pass the CPA exam and all of that. And I really quickly got to figure out that wasn’t a path for me. And anybody would test my behavioral style.

My my real geniuses would not have put me in accounting. So fast forward, I stumbled along when a pet of strategy of a $5 billion company, which was one of my clients had a strategy of a $20 billion company.

I learned a lot through the corporate environments of structure that worked, and really a lot of stuff that didn’t work. So I learned a lot during working for other people. I really figured out there had to be a better way.

I saw so much waste around me which other ways where the leaky bucket came from companies growing, they do well. But there’s so much opportunity they’re squandering.

There’s just so worried about next and not really thinking about the things to capture the opportunities that are right in front of them. And that’s what I kind of learned from those journeys.

Then I realized I didn’t want to be in these big Goliath companies. I’m an archer. You’re, and I started moving, turn my dad’s business around for the third time, I helped him not go bankrupt a third time planning an exit strategy, which he did.

And then I worked with another, an importer, and watched how they squandered opportunity. And that’s kind of how I wouldn’t have been a coach is, I knew there had to be a better way. I wanted to have a life of impact.

I didn’t necessarily, although I’ve owned, I think eight or nine businesses since, really, I wanted to impact others. And I wanted to help other leaders and entrepreneurs find a better way.


Alan Olsen

You know, it listen to you, Howard, I can immediately feel a certain kinship as an entrepreneur, that, that you just have this instinctive of problem solving. And also, I’ll say, the certain art of meekness and humility.

And I think that I can see why people will gravitate to you and like you as a coach, because because you’re very, very relatable. I want to move though into a couple things.

First of all, you you’re currently residing in Florida, but I imagined, is that where you grew up? Or did you


Howard Shore

know I grew up, I was born in Brooklyn, raised on Long Island, senior year of high school, my parents did me a favor and moved me down here. I’ve thought, you know, they just destroyed my life. And actually, it’s been a blessing.

And I’ve been down in the south Florida area ever since.


Alan Olsen

So what are some of the pivotal moments and lessons learned that helped you arrive? At the point you are today?


Howard Shore

Well if I go back to that first business, I’d like to do over as much as I said, I grew as much and I got an exit, it would have been far larger, and it would have been a much easier journey.

So I was raised in a generation, as you were, as well is, you know, work harder and harder. And it’ll, it’ll bear fruit. And, and I used to wear working long hours is a badge of honor, rather than a failure.

And so the only reason I was successful in the first business is I worked 100 hours a week.

And I didn’t figure out the right people to put around me, and figuring out who could help me get to where I wanted to, and, and I used to try to figure out everything myself.

So I would say that first business was a learning lesson, from a standpoint of I mean, I, I’m embarrassed to say I still remember a woman Barbie working for me. And I remember her crying because she was an artist.

And, you know, I was way too direct earlier in my career, at things to nine coaches, I’m, I’m a different human being today that I hired for myself, because I realized that, you know, just just being right was was was not the right answer to get ahead.

And so I also had to learn human relations.

So if you go back, and some of those organizations that I worked for that I got to do amazing things, you’d see a brace of, on my performance appraisals, too harsh, and, you know, maybe standards were too high stuff like that.

And so I had to learn through my journey, how to bring other people along, and how to reframe, and really work on a team.

And again, I’ll say that there were a number of times over the years, where, you know, I’ve actually gone back to formable bosses and thanked them, not only for their mentorship or for putting up with my crap.

And so the journey is, I think we learned everything through our trials and tribulations.

So I learned about unique ability, by trying certain things like accounting, that I have an acumen for, I can tell a business model works, but that doesn’t mean that ought to be what I’m doing.

So I, you know, through my different travels, and the different things I did, I think, it really helped me figure out where I can add the most value to everybody around me.

It also helped me understand what was important to me, because early in my career, I think some of my, my biggest lessons were, I thought too much about how much money I was going to make.

And or how to make the company money, but not why why things mattered, and what would actually get my, you know, my heart pumping in a positive way. I think I just worried about hard work and making money.

And so I had to learn the hard way that there was a lot more to it. And if I shifted my thinking, then that thinking would actually cause better and better results and so fast forward from those learnings.

Every year I’m trying to always figure out how do I work less and impact more and constantly looking at different lenses that way, and that and so obviously my my health is good Because I made that shift.

So I’ll say that those were some pivotal learnings in my journey of how I needed to grow as a leader, and as a person to be able to have the impact on the world that I was keeping. Yeah,


Alan Olsen

Howard, a lot of individuals say, they want to go into business for themselves. And as they look at their own foundation alive, they’ll they’ll often question, what is my unique ability, and you use that word?

Frequently in the last few minutes of unique ability. So as a business coach, someone comes here says, Howard, how do I learn my unique ability? You know, is there is there a process?

Is it that you walk individuals through that will help them drive into the right segments? Where they’re really good?


Howard Shore

That’s a great question. So it’s interesting, because everybody thinks they’re hiring Coaches and Consultants because of their process. And I’ve got lots of them. My unique ability is discernment.

And my ability, no matter what’s going on, no, actually, the more complex, the better, is to actually see what’s going on, and to see what needs to happen and what needs to stop happening, and how others see the world differently.

So what I’m going to tell you is, yes, there’s a battery of assessments that people can take, that can kind of help them. But typically, I’m observing, interacting with a CEO or leader or a team.

And then I’m really helping them figure out, you know, why do you spend so much time doing something you hate, and clearly doesn’t bring you any energy, and honestly, suck at it?

Why don’t you spend more time over here, where you’re going to add a lot more value.

And so some of it’s trial and error, some of its obvious, most people, if you quiz them enough, know what their you can unique ability is, but they don’t know how to spend a lot more time using that.

And so typically, I’m using processes and systems to get them to spend more time doing where they’re going, while doing what would give them energy, and they’d have the largest impact.

And, and then there’s some tools like simple tools, you get people to kind of our breakdown, where all your time goes, where do you spend your time, you know, every, every day, every week, every month.

And let’s kind of break those down into kind of activities. And then you can kind of, if you use an axis of, I’m really good at it’s a poor of it, and he uses another axis of, I love, I really love it, or I really hate it.

And he kind of create a matrix, obviously, we want to do things that we really love that we’re great at.

And so if you kind of think about a diagram that way, and you start plotting where you spend your time, it becomes obvious, the stuff we’re really good at that we love is pinpointing our unique ability.

The stuff that and by the way that we’re, we’re, we love but we’re not great at those are hobbies and don’t make that your business model, just just enjoy it and, and go do it.

But you’re not going to really accomplish much in the world, you’ll get some enjoyment from it. And then where most entrepreneurs are spending their time is things that they’re, they’re good at, they don’t lay.

And they might even be great, but they don’t like it. So finance was a good example of that, for me hungry, and looking at, you know, financial models and stuff like that, and just pinpointing what needs to go on.

If I had to do that all day long, like I did in a prior life. God just shoot me, right.

So I know that something I need to give up. Even though I might be good at it, somebody else who’s going to be great at it and love it is still going to do it far better than I am and get much further faster, because they love it.

And then the last group of things, which also points to the opposite of unique abilities, the things you should stay away from it, we just suck it, right.

And so if we just stay away from the psyche stuff, and state the stuff that we’re great at, and we love that is really going to pinpoint people to their unique ability.

So taking that something more practical, my unique ability, and if I did this all day long, I would be super happy, if it was every day is to get on a call with somebody.

For them to share the picture of what’s going on, help them shape more meaning to bring in all the data that they’re unconsciously not allowing themselves to see and help them get to an answer.

I do that faster than anybody else I know, at a level that everybody else’s would say is transformational for them. That’s my unique ability. That’s where I should spend my time and everything else I need to get rid of.

And that’s what I I spend my life trying to do. And that’s why I have a team to help.


Alan Olsen

So Howard, in your book, Your Business is a Leaky Bucket? Where do you see most businesses getting stalled?


Howard Shore

So here’s what’s funny, the whole idea of a leaky bucket. And when I was head of strategy for writer systems, which was a $5 billion company at the time.

I actually use leaky bucket as a metaphor for our strategic planning and business planning sessions for that year.

I was so frustrated with how much the company NP underperformed its capability that on like, we get it, we just got to really look at, we have all of this opportunity here. And it’s getting away from us.

So there’s a couple of things that I think are killing businesses, which don’t get captured. So first of all, everybody thinks the secret to what they need to do is in their financial statement. I’m a CPA.

And I can honestly tell everybody, there’s your financial statements are not wrong. But they’re not telling you what you need. Most of what you need, is not showing up in the financial state.

So for example, there is no financial statement line item on anybody’s financial statements that said, I hired a dumbass.

Some of them have cost me millions, all right, if you replace the non a player’s money shows up, and you can’t even explain it, you grow faster, you get more profitable, you need less people, all because she made better people decisions.

So the number one thing is, too many leaders are not 100% committed to a player only organizations, they say it’s too hard. It’s impossible. It’s not impossible. And definitely too many leaders are working with non a player leadership teams.

And it’s costing them a ton of opportunity. And it’s Squandering a lot of what they have already captured into their business bucket. The second thing that I would say, is too much incremental thinking.

So Dan Sullivan talks about 10x is easier to intuit X, before Dan came up with that, Jim Collins was about the big, hairy, audacious goal. And too often, people maybe come up with these audacious goals.

But everything they’re doing is incremental, to make this just a little bit better, a little bit smarter. They’re serving on efficiency, that they’re getting really efficient at crappy business models, or business models that have, you know, a very short ceiling.

And they really need to be going after, you know, the B hag. So, you know, typically, what I almost want to challenge people to do is make your B hag, your three hag, and then let’s see what you need to do this year, rather than think 10 years out.

That really, so I don’t think they’re thinking transformational enough in where they’re going. And then I’ll see the last item. That, and obviously, I have 15 leaks in my book. The last item, I would say is a scarcity mentality.

So a lot of leaders will say they have a button mentality. But we’ll go back to the p&l again. They look at every person they hire as an expense. They look at every single item in their p&l below revenue as an expense. Those are all investment.

I need to see more CEOs and leaders ask them the question, when I invest in this new position, what money is going to show up? What is my return? On every dollar I get hero?

A because they have a scarcity mindset that you hire people to Junior, they don’t fill open positions, they don’t create positions that are missing. They cut corners to try to be efficient and cost and that scarcity mentality really holds them back.


Alan Olsen

So how are what is your ideal claim with the size a company you like to work with? Are the early still, ironically,


Howard Shore

I gotta go back to B hat because we just updated our B hag, which is really helping us shape our client portfolio. So we had our lot of right clients in our past portfolio of clients. But we want that percentage to go way up.

And so my ideal client has a very long term mindset. They know that if we’re going to do anything transformational together, it’s not a project that we’re going to do together. It’s not even a year we’re going to do two together.

We’re going to be together as partners for years, where, you know, my job is really the kick the crap out of everybody to keep thinking much broader and much clearer and continually raising the lid of everybody in the organization.

So my ideal client has a long term mindset. The other thing is They don’t have that scarcity mentality, we like to take equity in clients and the right clients.

Obviously, if I wouldn’t invest money in your business, being an advisor, that takes money in your businesses is really not a smart move.

There are people, the companies that I would make money in, because they really have very high ceiling potential.

So good example is, Canada solutions, a company came to me a few years back, and actually wouldn’t meet my core customer, the way we’re defining it today.

Because they were too small in revenue, they were only around three and a half to 5 million in revenue bouncing around for that for 18 years. Fast forward.

Because they have because we’re now in year three, we have a $250 million revenue pipeline in a software business.

So all of you listening knows that’s even close half of that, and we’re over a billion dollar valuation, we’ve got a contract on a people side of the business that didn’t exist. That is $150 million contract.

So the type of people that are ideal for me have vision, they have very high ceilings, they want to reach there, they’re lifelong learners, they want to constantly be challenged.

And they recognize they have enough humility to know today, that incremental isn’t going to work and they need somebody to push them along the way to get there.

And if you needed to put revenue around it, typically they’re in a 10 million $200 million range, we’re when we start, so we can get them to that billion dollar level.

And they also have plenty of capital available for us to do whatever we need to do, and are willing and ready and able, if we need to raise money once we have that great idea to move forward.


Alan Olsen

What personal philosophy guides or approached us to business coaching others? How often do you want to meet with that with your your clients.


Howard Shore

So what’s interesting is is so my purpose in life is transformational impact. I don’t want to do anything incremental. To do that, I need to work with the CEO, I need to work with the leadership team.

And I need to work on the business with the team, which means I want to impact everybody in the organization. Because of that, our mindsets a little bit different.

Most coaches and consultants, they worry about billable hours and time spent with people, I believe the more time our clients was spent with them, that means the more engaged they are and the more transformational impact.

So there’s a wide array depends on because I do do individual executive coaching.

And in that case, we’re meeting you know, couple times a month, with the CEO, helping them to think differently, sometimes more often depending on how much chaos and growth is going out of the business.

But most of our clients, we’re working with the leader, the team, and the organization, we’re touching people every week. And I have a team approach in my firm. So I may not be touching them every week.

But somebody in my firm is touching that organization every week, because we’re running alongside we’re not showing up throwing up and sitting here, we’ll see you next quarter. We’re running alongside with them. We’re an extension of that team.


Alan Olsen

You know, the rate of change that the world is coming into with the advancement of AI is absolutely astounding. What advice would you give in today’s environment to an aspiring entrepreneur?


Howard Shore

Well, you’ve also got to look, not even just the aspiring it’s it’s the existing businesses, or are the ones that need the biggest wake up call. Because the newer ones, they grew up with technology. They don’t walk away anywhere without a phone.

They’re always on technology. And I think the younger generation thinks differently. Our younger clients think very differently than our older clients.

So I would say that I wouldn’t, I would say every business has to really you are in the technology business. Every single business and technology is is not a tool. It’s a way of life.

And and you’ve got to look at some really big macro changes going on in the world. Unemployment is not going away. I mean, low unemployment is not going away. This is a this is going to be a perennial problem for us in the US going forward.

Secondly, we just had this great opportunity to raise pricing for the last several years, that is going to start really capping out.

Inflation is not going away and your cost structures are the cost is going to keep going up and your ability to raise prices like you did over the last three years. That’s going away. The only way to address this is to Technology.

So you can’t just be thinking about this incrementally either. You’ve got to be thinking about what made Amazon Amazon and what made these other companies, great as they’ve been using AI for a year AI is not new.

They’ve been transforming business models using technology. And if you as business owners do not realize that your only way going forward is leveraging technology differently.

And I don’t care what industry and everybody argues, well, it’s different from my RV industry, somebody is going to knock you off, they are going to knock you out. And you’re going to be down for the Celts.

All right, I personally realized, even as a coach, so you know, what do I need to worry about technology? Being time, first of all, we have to steer clients, I am actually going to go and get a college education in AI, I made that decision.

Recently, I’m entering a program at Columbia University with one of the renowned people, because I want to bring a framework back to my clients to think about AI differently.

This is not just using chat TPT to answer some questions, we’re writing email better, we’ve got to be transformational in how we interact with customers, how we acquire customers, AI is gonna be crucial to that.

And even if we take out the word AI, technology is crucial to that. Think about what we’re doing right now, half of my work is to resume or something like that.

All right, it’s no longer going out to people every day, it’s also enabled me to do business anywhere in the world.

It’s enabled me to add more value quickly. Cuz even though you’re not running freight in front of me, I can look you straight in the eyes, Alan, and know what’s going on and know when you’re holding back.

All right, technology is recording our meetings and doing our notes for us. Technology in our firm, we’ve already come up with ways where we are saving days and weeks of time using technology. And it’s crucial.

Because every business owner, every leader has to realize whether you are getting paid time for money like people do and professional services, your every hour is worth something.

And I would argue any CEO of worth, your hour is worth anywhere between two and $10,000, at least per hour. So if you just use technology in a way to free on an hour a week, take that $2,000 or whatever your number is multiply that times 52.

And that’s really how much money that is going to show up on your bottom line. By leveraging technology differently.


Alan Olsen

Howard, this is extremely informative. I appreciate you being with us today on the show. I individuals that the listeners that want to follow up get more information, where would you lead them to?


Howard Shore

Well, so a lot of people want to check you out. So they go to LinkedIn and find and by the way, you have to use Howard M. Shore because there’s a famous producer that’s done, Lord of the Rings and other great music for movies.

And if you do Howard Shore doesn’t come up. So it’s Howard M Shore. You go to LinkedIn, you go to our website at So you see our name behind us. And you’ll be able to get a hold of us there.


Alan Olsen

It’s been a pleasure having you with us today Howard.


Howard Shore

Thank you, Alan.

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    Howard Shore on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Howard Shore

    Howard M. Shore, Founder and CEO of Activate Group Inc., is a bestselling author and serial entrepreneur specializing in liberating leadership teams from the barriers holding them back personally and professionally. Over the last 40 years, Howard has helped create over $1 Billion of value and authored two best-selling books, “The Leader Launchpad” and “Your Business is a Leaky Bucket.” Howard cut his teeth as the owner of several successful companies and an executive for Fortune 500 companies like Ryder Systems, AutoNation, and KPMG. Howard has become a sought-after business mentor, advisor, coach, and keynote speaker.

    About Activate Group Inc. (AGI): AGI makes it easier for CEOs and Leadership teams to grow faster with less effort and frustration. AGI has a reputation as a leading coaching and consulting firm for CEOs, organizations, and teams who demand results. Any coach or consultant can teach leadership operating systems, but only some achieve the change the leaders want. Clients include family-owned, multi-national, public, and private companies ranging from $5 million to over $1 billion in annual revenue. With a 30-year track record of success, we guarantee that any organization using our methods and systems will become more profitable, stable, and scalable.

    Alan Olsen on Alan Olsen's American Dreams Radio
    Alan Olsen

    Alan is managing partner at Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co., LLP, (GROCO) and is a respected leader in his field. He is also the radio show host to American Dreams. Alan’s CPA firm resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and serves some of the most influential Venture Capitalist in the world. GROCO’s affluent CPA core competency is advising High Net Worth individual clients in tax and financial strategies. Alan is a current member of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (S.I.E.P.R.) SIEPR’s goal is to improve long-term economic policy. Alan has more than 25 years of experience in public accounting and develops innovative financial strategies for business enterprises. Alan also serves on President Kim Clark’s BYU-Idaho Advancement council. (President Clark lead the Harvard Business School programs for 30 years prior to joining BYU-idaho. As a specialist in income tax, Alan frequently lectures and writes articles about tax issues for professional organizations and community groups. He also teaches accounting as a member of the adjunct faculty at Ohlone College.

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