Common Searches

Listen to Jim Tolbert, CEO of Vista College, discuss the definition of success in today’s workplace. He also talks about the role of leadership in the ever-changing business landscape. Listen to the audio clip below or read through the transcript.

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CHRIS WILLIAMS:

Absolutely. And I’m so glad that you were able to speak to that from the position that you hold because I think that, sometimes, even the region we live in may not even be best supported by a particular role that we’re seeking. And so I think it’s important sometimes to even think about your career, whether you’re in that 25 to 35 range, thinking about, “Okay, if I’m looking for a particular skill set, is it readily available in my area? And, if it’s not, where is it?” And then being able to say, “Hey, I’m going to pick up and make that move so that I can be in a place where my skill set is needed.” So thank you for definitely sharing that advice. And so a couple of things that I kind of thought about as you were talking is, how the current landscape has kind of changed and the different things that you’ve been able to see. You’ve been able to build a great education backbone, if you will. I’m sure a lot of people– I’m sure there’s plenty of stories of people who’ve gone through the programs and the things that you all offer and found success. But I’m interested and curious about what success means for you as a CEO. So share with me a little bit about what, today, success means for you. And when you decide that you’re ready to hand off Vista College to an emerging leader, what do you feel that person has to have in order for you to feel comfortable that your company is going to last into the next 20, 30 years?

JIM TOLBERT:

In terms of the question about, “What do I consider success?” and then the second question is, “To whom do I hand this off to someday?”, which seems, hopefully, such a distant thought; I can’t imagine it. But in terms of success of our company, and what I would consider personal and professional success is, one, growth is a big part of what we do. We are very ambitious and aggressive in our growth, and opening new campuses, and offering new programs of study, of getting better at enrolling students, and making sure that we have positive student outcomes in terms of retention, and helping them, and assisting them in finding employment. I mean, that to me, that growth, is a big part of success. Second of all, it’s not just about the top line. It’s about what we’re delivering in terms of earnings. So it’s profitable growth, is the second thing. The third thing is, we are a very compliant, a very highly regulated rather, industry and organization. So our ability to be successful has hugely impacted our ability to be compliant in all the various regulations that are governing what we do from day to day. So that’s the next thing. And then the final way that I would define success is, as I mentioned earlier, we are a private equity-backed company. Investors have entrusted our company with their funds to grow a company– to grow our company and do everything we want to do. And I owe them a return on investment of the funds that they’ve entrusted in me, whether that be dividends, whether that be a liquidity event at some point. But I have shareholders up for whom I am indebted, morally, governance-wise, and every other way, in order to deliver returns on their investment.

“But in terms of success of our company, and what I would consider personal and professional success is, one, growth is a big part of what we do.” – Jim Tolbert, CEO of Vista College

So those are all the ways that I personally think about professional success. In terms of the person that I would hand the company off to, they would have to say, “Yeah, Jim, I believe in exactly what you just said.” These are important pillars of a strategy of a company you’ve created. And making sure that we can do that and maintain a strong reputation in our markets are very important. And someone who has both the vision to say, “Okay, here’s sort of the next generation, or here’s the next iteration of growing Vista College,” and, “I do have the skill set, the temperament, and all those other intangible qualities to achieve that goal.” Those are the things I’d be looking at to someday in handing off the torch.

CHRIS WILLIAMS:

It is so amazing that you would mention that because I think that it’s very important for people to be able to know that. As a CEO, I’m sure you’re always looking at talent. You’re always looking for ways to increase the genius, if you will, of the leadership team that you have. So speak to maybe the person who would be interested in working in a organization like yours, in leadership. And maybe they’re just below leadership, but they’re interested. Maybe they’re an emerging leader. What type of advice would you give them in order to know, “How do I work in leadership in this capacity?” What are some of the things that Jim looks for when you talk about an executive leader inside of Vista College?

JIM TOLBERT:

You’re asking a great question because I think one of the most important jobs I have as CEO is attracting and recruiting talent to this company. And as you outlined at the very beginning of this conversation, we have grown tremendously, so the needs of the leadership of this company has evolved incredibly over the last 10 years. And I am always out in the market looking for talent to bring to Vista College to help us be more successful. And the things that I’m looking for is, typically, it’s a functional expertise. And that doesn’t mean I know the school business. It means I know something about customer service, or I know something about being a CFO, or what have you. So I’m looking for very best athletes and the people who are good at their field. But the other thing too, and even if someone is a very talented and really knows your business, may or may not be successful in this company. We’re a very entrepreneurial company. We’re a very fast-moving company. And some people do well in those environments, and some people don’t. And if it’s not for everybody, so be it. But I really try, in the recruiting process, to explain that we are a hard-charging company. We’re always looking for the next mountain to go conquer and climb up. And if that excites you, great. If that kind of gives you heartburn, there’s probably other opportunities that are better for you.

” So I’m a firm believer, and I think Vista College has demonstrated, you can have very high levels of integrity and still be very successful. And the two are not only not mutually exclusive; they’re mutually reinforcing.” – Jim Tolbert, CEO of Vista College

And then the last thing I guess I would say, just sort of off the cuff, in terms of what makes a great leader– and again, this is going to sound a little like motherhood and apple pie, and it’s sort of obvious [laughter], but it really is important in the business we’re in, is having high degrees of integrity. We can’t do anything to put our franchise at risk. And I think if anybody was to cut a corner, if everybody says, “Well, no one’s looking. I’ll just do X, Y, Z,” nothing could cause greater harm to our company than to show anything less than the highest levels of integrity. So I’m a firm believer, and I think Vista College has demonstrated, you can have very high levels of integrity and still be very successful. And the two are not only not mutually exclusive; they’re mutually reinforcing.

CHRIS WILLIAMS:

I think those things are important. And I would say, not even just for specifically your venture, but I would say across the board no matter in the industry you’re in, no matter where you may be, I think those are things that will bode well for anybody by following some of those principles. So last but not least, before we end our interview today, I’m curious to hear. Are there any books that you would say are sitting out there that you would recommend a emerging leader read that you feel would be helpful to their career in going forward?

JIM TOLBERT:

Yeah. There’s at least three, and they’re a bit of classics. But I’m giving you my answer, and there’s a lot of great books out there, and I’ve learned a lot reading a lot of different things. But I’m sort of going to answer your question based on what books do you quote during the course of a day. So there’s at least three books that I would potentially quote over the course of a day. One is 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, and if I butchered that title, excuse me. But there’s really some very basic principles about being a successful person and a successful business executive that I just think are classic and are always relevant. The second is Jim Collins’ Good to Great. And we are often using cliches that came out of that book like, “Get the right people on the bus, and put them in the right seat.” And there’s some other just basic principles that is going on probably 20 or plus years or more now and has just remained a classic in business literature. And then the last book that I would recommend that I really enjoyed reading was Jobs by Walter Isaacson. And Steve Jobs was an incredible person who created an unbelievable company. He just had to have some things like his reality distortion field that allowed him to say, “Hey, we’re going to get there, and I don’t care what anybody else says.” That created one of the greatest companies on the planet Earth, and it is an amazing story of how he did that.

CHRIS WILLIAMS:

That makes me kind of think because Steve Jobs, he was an amazing person. I mean, for those who don’t know anybody who can get fired from your own company, and then needed to come back, and they come back, and they do it again, I think it’s [laughter] just kind of incredible to do what they’re able to do. But when you think about– there’s always the conversations that you see in articles, or people are discussing at conferences, and what you see, whether it’s written or verbal, there’s always the discussion about what the millennial brings to the table when it comes to the workforce. I would like to ask the other side of that question. What do you feel is still the asset for a company that still likes hiring baby boomers and are looking for some of that experienced knowledge? What would you say are the benefits to the workplace that baby boomers are bringing that are still critical? I would obviously say that the more they bring their experience, that’s bar none. That’s 10 times better than probably most things. But what would you say is probably unique to the baby boomer that the millennial just wouldn’t have outside of the experience?

JIM TOLBERT:

Well, and again, at the risk of painting too broad a brush over too many people, I think it’s a work ethic that– I know that in dealing with a baby boomer in the workplace, more often than not, they’re going to have– the attitude is, “We’re going to do what it’s going to take to get it done,” not, “Oh, it’s 5 o’clock. Bye! I’ll see you tomorrow.” And I think being able to have that reliance on people that grew up with that ethic is irreplaceable and incredibly valuable.

CHRIS WILLIAMS:

Wow. I agree with that. I do believe that our opportunity– I’ll [laughter] say that for– because perception is reality for all of us, no matter what we’re talking about. And in this case, I definitely think that work ethic is something that you have to grow with, and I completely agree with that. And that’s a great value-add for anyone listening. So, Jim, this has been a great opportunity. I am very appreciative of what you’ve provided. Please share with our audience some ways that they can reach out to Vista College and learn more about what it is that you all offer.

JIM TOLBERT:

Sure, I’d be happy to. The best way to reach out to us is to go to our website, which is www.vistacollege.edu, and that is a great way to check us out, and who we are, and all the various exciting things that we’re in. If anybody listening to this wants to reach out to me directly, my email address is jtolbert@vistacollege.edu. J-T-O-L-B-E-R-T@vistacollege.edu. It would be my pleasure to correspond with anybody who’s interested in more information that I discussed today.

CHRIS WILLIAMS:

Absolutely. And when you talk about some other CEOs and people, I’m sure you talk to high levels in a lot of different organizations in different industries. What would you feel is the thing that you’re looking to help them with? That once they reach out to you, they can probably have a better understanding of kind of where to go from there?

JIM TOLBERT:

Well, I mean, you mentioned also earlier the connection with Vistage. I am a member of Vistage, which is an organization that brings together CEOs in a confidential format to just kind of share problems and issues. I had one of my all-day Vistage meetings yesterday, and we got into some really interesting conversations about some of the concerns that we have in common in our very wide variety of businesses that we run. But the issues that we are dealing with, whether they’re high-level HR issues, whether they’re dealing with the stresses of our work lives, or what have you, are very common among CEOs in a broader array of industries.

CHRIS WILLIAMS:

And so for the CEO that might want to talk to you, for the HR person that might want to talk to you, I’m sure they can find you at the same email address. What types of things are you interested in sharing with them as part of conversation?

JIM TOLBERT:

Well, one of the things that I think I hopefully could be very helpful in is, given the growth that we’ve had– we’re 10 times bigger than we were 10 years ago. And every stage of growth has provided a new set of challenges. And probably the number one thing, as I mentioned earlier, that I’ve dealt with over 10 years is the constant upgrading of my team. That’s been scary, and it’s been difficult, and it’s been rewarding. And I would be happy to share with anybody who’s in a similar situation, growing a company over an extended period of time, some of the challenges that they might have in sort of continually upgrading the team. I think the other thing that I could hopefully be helpful to someone in a similar situation is, there’s a lot of things that I’ve had to stop doing as a CEO. That there’s things that I did 10 years ago that I enjoyed doing that, as we got bigger, wasn’t practical for me to do. And so being able to kind of continually evolve yourself as a professional is something that, hopefully, I could bring some insights to other people on.

“And I would be happy to share with anybody who’s in a similar situation, growing a company over an extended period of time, some of the challenges that they might have in sort of continually upgrading the team.” – Jim Tolbert, CEO of Vista College

CHRIS WILLIAMS:

Well, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. You have heard from a great man here in the United States who is doing incredible work in our education space, the CEO of Vista College, Jim Tolbert. Jim, thank you so much for your time today.

JIM TOLBERT:

It’s been my pleasure, Chris, and I really enjoyed talking to you today.

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