How Company Culture Influences Organic Growth

How Company Culture Influences Organic Growth | David Kinsley | CEO Campfire Chat podcast logo

David Kinsley didn’t anticipate taking over the family business. In his teenage years, he dreamed about becoming a Wall Street power broker, vacationing in St. Barths, and living a life filled with the finer things.

But when a chronic illness upended his first two years of college, his life changed course. He finally found relief and recovery in Eastern traditions. That led to a spiritual awakening that guided him back to the organization his father had founded.

He joined The Kinsley Group full-time in 1994 and became President 12 years ago. He’s led the organization through 12 straight years of growth and continues to find new, synergistically linked ways to expand the energy solutions company.

However, when asked about the key to the company’s success, he doesn’t point to a business development initiative or specific product. Instead, he says it’s The Kinsley Group’s team of compassionate, emotionally intelligent individuals.

Every employee goes to work each day striving to fulfill the company’s vision statement: To solve the energy infrastructure and environmental issues of the country. This lofty goal, to improve sustainability and provide top-tier service, is what David identifies as their secret sauce.

David says that his vision statement for The Kinsley Group was inspired by Bill Gates’ mission for Microsoft. In the 1970s, the thought of having an at-home computer would have been completely alien, yet Bill Gates proclaimed that his goal was to make that very thing happen. He dreamed bigger than anyone would have thought possible, and today that dream is a reality.

Similarly, David aims to solve big climate problems with innovative energy solutions. The Kinsley Group does this by designing bespoke offerings to tackle major environmental issues. He offers the example of a partnership with a Vermont dairy farm, Cabot Creamery, and Middlebury College.

The dairy farm captures manure from its livestock, while Cabot Creamery and Middlebury ship food waste and byproducts to the farm. On the farm, all the waste goes through an anaerobic digester to create a renewable natural gas. Then, the local utility provider pipes that natural gas back to Middlebury, where it provides 50 percent of the energy needs of the college.

This type of creative solution provides long-term benefits to all parties and has a positive environmental impact. And by working towards these higher ideals and leading with compassion for people and the planet, The Kinsley Group is also securing its own financial success.

At the end of the chat, when asked what listeners can do for him, David calls on other leaders to focus on the human side of business. He believes business has to give back. In imagining a future business school case study written about The Kinsley Group, David hopes that the takeaway message would be this: that it pays to run a business with a heart and treat people with respect.

Episode Transcript

Rob Ristagno: Building a mission-focused business is increasingly becoming a goal for entrepreneurs and leaders. Today, I speak with one CEO whose mission is to serve. Not just his customers, but also his employees and the environment. Hear how following these values led directly to astonishing revenue growth.

Introduction: This is the CEO Campfire Chat with your host, Rob Ristagno. Taped in front of a live studio audience, join us to hear successful growth stories from middle-market companies, just like yours. Sponsored by the Sterling Woods Group.

Rob Ristagno: Welcome to the CEO Campfire Chat recorded live in front of a studio audience of senior executives. I’m your host, Rob Ristagno, and today I have the privilege of introducing you to David Kinsley, who is the president of the Kinsley Group. What they do, they’re an energy solutions provider for customers throughout the Northeast. David has been with the Kinsley Group since 1994. And since he took over the business 12 years ago, they have grown six and a half times. Welcome, David.

David Kinsley: Thank you.

Audience Member: Congratulations.

David Kinsley: Thank you.

Rob Ristagno: Yeah, that is incredible growth. Tell us just one secret to your success here. That is incredible, one secret.

David Kinsley: Yes, it’s usually not one secret is it? And I think at the essence, our culture.

Rob Ristagno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David Kinsley: Is the secret sauce. It starts with being a business with a heart, which I like to think attracts the next level of talent, emotionally intelligent associates with greater awareness, greater empathy, higher level of customer service, which that attracts customers.

David Kinsley: And then I think that’s certainly half of the equation, but then certainly to be coupled with a disciplined, accountability-based organizational management model we’ve employed for about 10 years. It’s facilitated a scalable growth and allowed for outsized success. We’re definitely proud of it because we’re… It’s affected an industrial distribution model, which you typically see high-tech growth in that timeframe. But we’ve done it in what you might call a Steady Eddy, a old school model. So yeah, we feel pretty good about what we’ve done.

Rob Ristagno: I like it. Culture and discipline around accountability. I want to unpack both of those things throughout the interview. Before we dive in, however, could you just give us a little bit of an overview of the Kinsley Group? A bit about your business model, what you do, how you make money, just for context for the audience?

David Kinsley: Yeah, sure. So writ large, we’re an energy solutions company, which–many people in our space will call themselves that. So that can be the end of a cocktail party conversation pretty quickly when people ask you what you do, but it’s… So there’s the Kinsley Group, which is our holding company. Underneath that we have multiple synergistically linked entities and our vision is to add more of those over time. Again, synergistically linked. Currently we have Kinsley Power Systems, which has really been our bread and butter. That is, we’re a central distributor for Polar Generators. It’s the same company, it’s a $7 billion privately held company out of Wisconsin for emergency backup power.

David Kinsley: That’s residential, to commercial, to industrial applications. We do sales, we have a technical sales staff. We have a dealer network for our residential business, a couple of hundred of those throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic. We’re one of the largest service groups in that geography, Maine to to Philly, probably stretching–so you’d go on a two to four hour response time on service and the off of that–and again, Maine down to Philly. Pretty much going to be stretching to Virginia here in near future, and then Boston out to Pittsburgh, Buffalo in that geography.

David Kinsley: And then we also rent, we have parts, we have engineering support, RME emergency backup generator business. And then we have our second ellipse would be Kinsley Energy Systems. You know, we have a Czech prime power cogeneration combined power energy solution, which is–Kinsley Power, we like to call our “insurance company,” basically backup for the grid.

Rob Ristagno: All right.

David Kinsley: Our TEDOM, our plant power businesses and ROI, return on investment sale–typically looking to give you a three to five-year payback on your energy bill, and usually that’s more for larger scale energy plants. You guys have all heard of the Waldorf Hotel. We’re going to be blowing out the sixth floor and putting in basically an energy plant for the Waldorf. They’ll get free heats as the power plant runs and generates a lot of thermal. And so you capture the waste heat. You have free hot water, again get a three to five year payback.

David Kinsley: We’ve got a dairy farm in Vermont. It’s capturing the manure and then Cabot Creamery is nearby, the dairy guys. And their food byproduct is being shipped over to this anaerobic digester at the farm, with the manure. And then Middlebury College is nearby and they’re shipping their food waste from their dining hall, et cetera over. And what’s kind of interesting, it’s a sexy project in that we’re creating a renewable natural gas. We’re taking methane or the food waste from Cabot and from all of it. From the cows, from the kids at school, would all be going to landfills and creating 10% of CO2 emissions, comes from landfill. So you’re taking that out and create a renewable natural gas.

Rob Ristagno: Uh-huh (affirmative).

David Kinsley: And then Vermont Gas, the utility in Vermont, is pipelining that back to Middlebury College. And it’s going to take care of 50% of the energy needs of the College.

Rob Ristagno: Oh wow.

David Kinsley: So that’s just we’re… Our vision statement is to solve the energy infrastructure and environmental issues of the country. And that’s a good example of how we’re doing. I will say too, we’re doing a lot with the new gold rush, which are black box marijuana grow facilities. They’re huge energy hogs; we’re doing a lot with that. And we’re pouring the CO2 back into the growth space, and so the plants grow 20% faster. So it’s kind of an innovative again–

Rob Ristagno: Uh-huh (affirmative).

David Kinsley: Energy solutions writ large. That’s really what I’m focused on is, I’ve got a dynamic team, leadership team and how to add more, over time, to help identify where’s the lowest hanging fruit and how can we make the biggest difference that’s synergistically linked to what we do?

Rob Ristagno: Sounds like, I just want to dig a little deeper on this vision point because it’s a very audacious vision, right? You said, solve energy infrastructure, environmental issues. You didn’t say sell more units of our generators. So tell us a little bit about… I imagine that relates to your earlier point that supports the culture, that supports the accountability, but we need the vision to be bigger than just something like selling units. So tell us a little bit, has that vision evolved over time or how did you come up with it?

David Kinsley: Yeah I guess I’ve always been hard-wired to be ambitious. I don’t know why, I don’t how, doesn’t matter, just is. And I remember, as I’m putting our vision statement together and I also, and I guess we’ll probably dive into this based on some of our prior conversations, I just, it’s not enough for me just to make money. Obviously money is the lifeblood of a company, it’s critical and you got to stay focused on that. But I really like to have a higher purpose, if you will. And I remember, I was inspired by Bill Gates’s vision statement back in the 70s, to put a computer on every desk.

Rob Ristagno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David Kinsley: Was the Microsoft that..who in the 70s would have thought about that, right? And yet they put it to paper, and they lived it and look at us today. And look at Microsoft today. And, so in the same way, I wanted a bold statement that really spoke to what inspired me, was to help solve the environmental issues and energy infrastructure of the country. And again, to have that in writing and share that with the company and share it with the broader business community, that’s how things manifest from my experience. There was a study done of Harvard graduates from 50 years ago and across the board. They researched, those who had put their goals down in writing and they found that those who had written them down, had this out sized success. So, that’s part of it, too.

Rob Ristagno: One thing to take away already is write down your vision, put it in writing. All right, back to the culture point. You said culture was one of the elements of your secret sauce. It probably is behind the vision here. Culture though, is something that a lot of people talk about and give some lip service to, but don’t really do too much about it to manage it actively. Tell us a little bit about how you’ve built such a strong culture.

David Kinsley: Well, I mean I’m second generation family business. My dad started the business 57 years ago. And so to be clear, I inherited the culture from my dad. And what’s kind of interesting is, so we went through an exercise probably about 10 years ago, where we had to codify our core values and as part of an organizational management model that we use. And when I first started talking about this, my expectation was that it would be pretty clear to everybody in the company, that they knew what our core values were. And so I did a little test case and I went around to 10 different employees and I asked them what our core values were. And of course I got 10 different answers. And that was disconcerting, but it let me know that we had to codify it. So, really, we looked at our top 20 associates and we said, what are their core values?

David Kinsley: And we really thought long and hard about it and reviewed it every 90 days to make sure we really had it down. And after a few years we really kind of nailed it, in terms of what our core values are. And then, it was funny because, it was only a couple of years ago. I sat back and I looked at the core values and, the core values are what we hire around, what we do our evaluations around, it’s essential to every–core values employees of the month. Core value employees of the year, back of business cards, on the wall, on the website, they’re everywhere. I mean, we talked about them exhaustively; they’re central to what we do. They are again, part of our culture and our secret sauce. But a couple of years ago, I was looking back and I realized, that’s my dad.

David Kinsley: And I looked at the core values and no surprise that as the founder, he established the culture, which then led to the hiring people who mirrored his core values. So, that to me is where the culture really comes from. And I’ve said time and again, that’s my inheritance, my true inheritance. It’s not the stuff of the company, but it’s the reason that we are successful.

David Kinsley: Previously I really had concepts about, the cold calculating Ebeneezer Scrooge model for business success and realized that it’s really, of course, a trite truism. It’s about your people and focusing on being a business with a heart, is what my dad’s always spoken to. And to really be virtues-led and focused about people as human beings, not numbers. And it’s interesting, my 14 year old, he’s fairly precocious. I was just talking with him and he was like, “Dad, if you become a billion dollar company, how are you going to do that?” And I said, look, it’s got to be about having the codified core values and obviously hiring a team that gets it and then having the next layer down and just keeping a relentless focus on. So, that’s the plan.

Rob Ristagno: What advice do you have about hiring people who meet your core values? What’s your hit rate and how accurate are you during an interview process, the screening process, the get to know you process, to determine if someone will be a fit or not?

David Kinsley: Yeah I mean, it’s again, there are those five codified core values. Every hiring manager is trained on identifying those in the hiring process. And to a T, obviously my leadership team wouldn’t be my leadership team if it weren’t for their alignment with the core values. And I have an outstanding VP of HR, who totally gets it. She has a recruiter who, the second recruiter now, who also are very much aligned with and get that. And that’s really the essence, it gets down to the hiring managers understanding what the core values are. And you reached that tipping point where you have that core group of people who are aligned with your core values, with that, the culture I described and you know what I mean, are there mistakes made? Absolutely. That’s part of hiring, but again, when you reach a tipping point, anything less than what I’ve described is not accepted. And so people typically will move on, they’re not aligned.

Rob Ristagno: Tell us a little bit about how you apply your cultures and your values to your customers. Does that play a role in what customers are the best customers for you or how you serve your customers?

David Kinsley: So yeah, it really gets down to, again, when you have the core values, it’s just who people are. And I do think that again, I think I referenced when you hire people with those core values, you have a higher level of emotional intelligence to offer, a higher level of customer service overall. You put yourself in other people’s shoes and you do unto others as you have them do unto you. And so just very naturally, if you’re a customer, I know that’s the kind of company I would like to deal with. And so I think that it’s part and parcel of our success, is hiring people who really care about other people. I mean, one of our core values is pride in ownership, and some of the essence of that is just really caring, caring about people.

Rob Ristagno: Uh-huh (affirmative).

David Kinsley: So there’s no question that the core values are what lead to customers wanting to do business with us. I think there’s an element, too, where being a family business and we got about 160 employees right now. We’re probably going to top 200 by the end of next year. Again, we’re scaling up in a bunch of different areas, but I’m finding that customers really connect with the overall story, knowing that the company cares about you and not just a set of words, but actually feeling that. And I think that again, from a core value standpoint, from a culture standpoint, from a hiring standpoint, that comes through in your… I hear about it from customers on a regular basis, so that’s my validation.

Rob Ristagno: Do your values ever disqualify a certain customer? Did you ever say, “Hey, this type of customer is just inconsistent with our values and we shouldn’t be doing business with them.” Or if we do, do business, we have to act a little bit differently.

David Kinsley: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I can’t remember the, is it Kellerher from Southwest Airlines. It’s a famous story of basically, a customer just kept complaining and he basically said, you’re not for us.

David Kinsley: Part of our organizational management model was to identify our three target markets. So we’ve identified who they are, and basically businesses of scale. We want them to be well-financed and to appreciate quality, basically we’re seeking a partner, not a commodity sale. Which takes you out of the price game, and that really fits our model of having higher-level talent. And so essentially leveraging our added skillsets that way. So yeah, we’re pretty focused on both the marketing and a sales standpoint, the same focus on identifying companies like that, customers like that.

Rob Ristagno: I like how you have a mix there kind of hard firmographic data driven, the size, the scale, well-financed, but then also the more, the important, but more qualitative, appreciates quality. Because I think that’s a key that customers need to have their key sales indicators, things that indicate that a customer would be a good fit for them. So it sounds like you’ve thought through both the hard and the soft elements of that.

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Audience Member: David, kind of on that theme, thinking through the alternative energy, whether it’s solar, geothermal or the methane experiment you have with colleges. Is that at your calling card? We’re problem solvers. And is that helping you sort of create this sort of, paint this picture of what the future energy solution might look like? I mean, and are you making money with that or is that just part of your innovation and experimentation?

David Kinsley: Part of what I’ve discovered in my 45 plus years here is that, timing is critical in business. You can be first with a great idea, but, if it doesn’t make money and the market isn’t ready for it… I put micro grids out there and it’s a buzzword in the energy space.

Rob Ristagno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David Kinsley: But right now the market’s not ready to buy it unless you have government entities, financing projects, there’s no return, there’s no market. And so, we’ve tried different things over time, but really there’s got to be that at its essence. So, it’s about aligning your talent, about having the next level group of people who can… and I think we’ve developed a reputation for being problem solvers in our space, and that’s what keeps attracting and leading to references as well. I mean, we’re not a mass market, you’re not going to see us advertised on TV anytime soon.

Rob Ristagno: Yeah.

David Kinsley: We’re word of mouth. We’re a lot of times in industrial networks and trade groups or subsets that way. But, in general, yeah, it’s having, again that next level talent. You can solve problems and develop your reputation which just attracts more and more. I mean, we’re about repeat sales. We’re not about just one-off sales. And so it’s about a long-term relationship.

Rob Ristagno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David Kinsley: Which is really also the essence of the kind of people that we hire, have the ability to engender trust, to deliver over an extended period of time, to have the sense of urgency. They have the quality so that you want to work with somebody over the next 20 years.

Rob Ristagno: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David Kinsley: When you look at our, some of those energy plants. We’re in effect getting into a 20 year marriage with each of those customers.

Audience Member: Yep.

David Kinsley: With The Waldorf Hotel, that energy plant will be there for the next 20 years. That’s the life cycle of that system.

Audience Member: Right.

David Kinsley: And we’re going to be doing service on the equipment. If there are ever issues, we’re going to be there to help solve it. And so they’re really dependent on us for an extended period of time.

Rob Ristagno: Yeah.

David Kinsley: It’s a great, there’s stickiness from a business standpoint that way, which we love the recurring revenue stream that comes from, you sell the product more often than not. On the generator side, it tends to be an 80% hit rate of, we’re going to have a service annuity. That’s going to come out of it. And then on the prime power side, it’s almost 100%. And services you guys buy now is also a more profitable part of what we do. So it’s, I feel like I stumbled into it by birth. Having this business model that is extremely diversified, meaning that wherever there’s IT or computers, there we are. And so virtually we’re in every element of the economy. And then we also have the service piece. So, in a pandemic this year, we’re in July to June, we’re eight months in, soon to be nine months into the year, our fiscal year, we’re up 83%.

Audience Member: Wow.

David Kinsley: So in a pandemic we’re extremely blessed, but part of it is because we’re critical infrastructure and we do a lot of water, life-safety, healthcare, hospitals, data centers, police, fire, and colleges and universities. So we’re in virtually every sector of the economy with a recurring revenue stream. And so we joke in the emergency power business that the end of the world is good for the generator business, because literally you’re not, keep talking about hurricanes. We had Isaias, the ice storm that we had in August.

Rob Ristagno: Oh yeah.

David Kinsley: From Philly to Western Mass, we’ve had a boom since then. So we’ve been, so macro the model is, it’s very attractive across the board.

Audience Member: Right? Well, very, very what a wonderful business model. Is Tesla a competitor or a partner?

David Kinsley: Well, they could be a partner. Elon, I don’t know, he’s pretty mercurial. I’m not sure I want him as a partner. He’s super smart, but so his power packs.

Rob Ristagno: Have Lithium storage.

David Kinsley: Yeah, so energy storage is something that we definitely are exploring at this point. In fact, we have an entity that’s approached us that works with a sister or a distributor on the West Coast. I try to avoid commodity plays, and my guess is that’s probably where that will end up. And one thing that I also sort of want to understand about our businesses is, if we’re not offering service–that’s one of our true value adds. So if a product just needs to be resold, I’m not sure if that’s really for us. So, for the power pack, maybe, maybe not. Right now, the margins are already pretty low, and so I’m not so sure.

David Kinsley: But, we have our toe in the water, just in case. And that’s sort of the beauty of what we’re doing though too is, we can experiment kind of like we do with the fuel cell. Is test these out, see if something that’s, whether it’s power quality equipment or whatever. I mean, I actually had an outreach from an investment firm who was trying to vet one of the new products. They were thinking about a bunch of Stanford PhDs that are developing a new prime mover. It’s out of the West Coast and it’s probably a year away, but we’re in the mix. So I’ve always kind of joked–I don’t live far from Westfield, Massachusetts, which used to be the buggy whip capital of the country.

Audience Member: There you go.

David Kinsley: You probably know what’s happened in Westfield, Massachusetts, since the advent of cars, and I never want to be the buggy with company. So we’re always looking for where’s the new technology, what’s going to replace generators, what’s going to… And so again, getting back to solving the energy infrastructure, environmental issues, try to stay at before the curve. I’m blessed that I have a good friend who you probably know what the ISO is, the Independent System of Operators.

Audience Member: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David Kinsley: And so I’ve got a good friend who’s president of the New England, the entity. And his job is to basically think 20 years out.

Audience Member: Yeah.

David Kinsley: What is the energy grid? What’s the mix going to be? And so he and I get together on a periodic basis and he sends me off on various investigative projects from time to time. So keeping my ear to the ground is part of what I do to always try to stay abreast of what’s come.

Audience Member: David, what’s your view on geographic expansion, inorganic expansion? I’ll bet you can get both people trying to buy your company or give you money, to loan you money or sell you other kinds of similar businesses all the time. Is that part of your roadmap for growth?

David Kinsley: Yeah. I mean, we’ve grown 83% this year organically. So M&A hasn’t really been on our radar at this point in time, though that’s something that we’re considering down the road. We have been profitable for 57 years in a row. So outside financing is not really a need at this point in time. And I will say, I get approached almost every other day, if not every day, by the people, and, I’d be crazy to sell right now because, one: I’m having so much fun. I’ve got a passion for what I do. I’m 54, I see probably another 18 to 20 years doing what I’m doing. And then I’ve also, who knows I’ve got a 14 and 18 year old and neither of them, and my dad probably looked at me when I was 14 to 18 and shook his head and said, no way, because that’s what I’m doing with my two sons, but here I am.

David Kinsley: And I’ve also, I’ve always been intrigued by family businesses. And particularly when I think about Europe and some businesses that have been, it’s high end winery, that’s been in the same family for 13 generations. And given the uniqueness of our culture, I really would love to be able to. And also frankly, out of gratitude for what I received from my dad. I mean, it’s really, I know what I have is an extraordinary gift. The culture, but also the model, and then energy. There’s so much change and wherever there’s change, there’s opportunity. And so right now, I’m always open to listening to ideas, but right now I don’t foresee any sale needed or of interest.

Rob Ristagno: David, I think you have a really interesting backstory. You told me once that when you were in college, you thought you were on the path to becoming a Wall Street banker and then something happened, and it all changed. Do you mind sharing with us your journey to becoming a CEO?

David Kinsley: Yeah, so I’ve had many lifetimes, I’m only 54, but I mean I was, I went to a top boarding school, high school in the country and I went to one of the best schools in England, and then I went to school with Rob and Jack, one of the top schools in the country. And, I was, my fraternity, Goldman Sachs, recent alums, we might prepare you to come back and interviews. And so I was basically being groomed for a pipeline to go to Wall Street, and having been brought up in that world of great white privilege, I bought into it. And I wanted to have, I wanted to vacation in the right places. And I was definitely a materialist. And, I wanted to make a lot of money, was sort of my goal. And then right, the week before my freshman year of college, I was about to go out on this freshman trip and I got sick and I was in bed for the better part of two years.

David Kinsley: And I missed five semesters of college. And it was one of those dark nights of the soul. Where I, it was a really brutal period of my life and everything changed. I went to… So I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, chronic mononucleosis, and a family friend, one of my dad’s tennis buddies from our summer place, was the head of Boston Children’s at the time. And he also eventually became head of Dana Farber, Harvard medical faculty member wrote a book on my illness. So of course, we go to see him and he says, “David, sorry, we have no magic doll.” And I think I muttered under my breath, “That must’ve been a short book you wrote,” but with total respect and admiration because I love this man. But so we went to the top of the mountain in Western medicine and there was nothing.

David Kinsley: And so my mother being my mother, she just tiger momed her way into figuring out alternative modalities outside of Western medicine. Started throwing stuff against the wall to see what would stick. And after, probably the tenth one, came by and there were actually family friends from our summer place. Who I thought they were really strange, even though there was a Harvard pedigree again, a guy I looked up to as, I was a tennis player in high school and college. And he was the guy 10 years older that I looked up to. And yet he was doing this. He was a PhD in neuro-linguistic psychology, but he was doing this all through the good stuff. Anyway, he came by my house with his wife, worked with me for an hour a day for a week and, long story short, I ran the Boston marathon about six months later.

David Kinsley: And I was in a state of ecstasy and bliss for about a month. And I literally felt like I unlocked the secret to life. I was in love, but with no externality. And it was kind of a classic mystical awakening that you read about. And again, coming from an agnostic materialist, completely intellectual, academic perspective, it was one of those–had I not gone through it. I never could have understood it or even shared with you in the way that I ended up, because it was so powerfully, transformative and undeniable because it was my experience. And I was, I got better, at this incredible rate. So, everything changed from that moment on, I really, I was so blown away by what happened. And I was in the Animal House, literally in college, the guy who wrote Animal House was in my house 25 years before I graduated.

David Kinsley: And so, just to give you a little perspective of the change that took place, and so anyway…I ended up really soul searching and, who am I was the only question left. I really didn’t care about anything else, but figuring that question out. And so it led me on a journey and I ended up going into the Peace Corps and I went, I chose there because it was right after the wall fell and it was a fascinating historical time. So I went to Bulgaria, I was the first westerner to live in my city or town because it was right by Turkey and Greece. So there were NATO bases on the other side. And there were three military bases in the city I lived in. And anyway, so I served there for a couple of years while I was really seeking.

David Kinsley: And then eventually I moved into a spiritual retreat site for a year and a half. And I thought I was going to become a monk because literally, who am I was all I cared about. I wanted to serve. I wanted to get aligned with that experience that I’d had as part of my healing, because I knew it was the secret to life, is to really live in that place of love. I knew that love was who I was on an experiential level. Profound as could ever be experienced, frankly. So I feel extraordinarily blessed because I’ve had that touchstone. I know it’s rare. I don’t share this story a lot, but Rob pulled it out of me and asked me to share it here today, so I am. But what’s interesting is that a couple years ago, so my dad’s 86, soon to be 87–

David Kinsley: It was only about five years ago that he told me that he wanted to be a minister. Could’ve blown me over with a feather. Here he’s running this business for 50 plus years. I always knew that he was human-centric and focused on the virtues and he just lived it. He doesn’t go to church. He doesn’t go to temple. He calls himself a Buddhist, though he’s never been to a Buddhist temple or retreat in his life. I think he just likes the philosophy. It’s more rational and academic, if you will. But, bottom line, my dad just lived it. He just lived the teachings, he lived the virtues. And that’s in effect what I see myself in, in the same way, because I don’t talk about it at work. I never, I think I’ve shared only with my HR VP this story, because it’s not really, I think, appropriate per se to bring up at work.

David Kinsley: But, I really feel like I realized when I was living at the spiritual retreat site, that it was my time. You’re out in the world and really just bring the teachings and the experience that I’ve learned there to the world. And so that really informs what the business is about. Focusing again on the virtues and serving others and giving back and caring about people and everything that I think we are all highly aware of is learning to focus on. And, I also think that, that is all right, you pulled it out of me about, that’s the secret sauce.

Audience Member: Thank you.

David Kinsley: In terms of our culture. I mean, it’s not talked about, but I can talk about it in code by talking about the virtues and that which as human beings we can all connect with. And frankly, I don’t know anybody who doesn’t resonate with those elements. So, that’s my story.

Rob Ristagno: Thank you, David, you’ve been very generous with your stories, personal and professional. 

What can the group in the audience do to help you out?

David Kinsley: I was thinking about that because you shared a little bit that way and you know, I frankly would love to see more businesses focus on the human side with the virtues. And I think that’ll help everyone. I mean, so my mother’s got a PhD in community service learning. She’s a professor at UMass in incorporating, and she was a consultant nationally, how to bring community service and curriculum to school K-12. She was on the board of AmeriCorps. So community service is a key part. I know I’ve got my dad and I got mom and a blend of both. And, so I really believe that business at its essence has to give back.

David Kinsley: And so just hopefully there’s some inspiration here today in the same way. To have your respective philosophy, the line in giving back and making the community a better place across the board. I think that’s what leads to business success. And I talked to Rob about, Hey if Kinsley can be a Harvard business case study in 20 years–we’re a billion dollar company. When I started, we were probably about 15 million and we’re on our way, trajectory wise to be a billion dollar company. And I’d love for that Harvard business case, I’d be like, that’s how you do it. You run a business with a heart and treat people with respect, the way you’d want to be treated, and that’s how you move to outsized business success.

Rob Ristagno: Thank you so much. David Kinsley learned a lot here. I appreciate your opening up both personally and professionally. That does it though for us this week on the CEO Campfire Chat. I’m your host Robert Ristagno, and to listen to more episodes or sign up for bonus content, visit us at See you next time around the fire.

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