Brian Fleming, CEO and Founder of FORT Capital Resources, Strategic Partner of Open Spectrum’s and Co-Managing Partner of The Renegade Trust, sat down with us for an intimate conversation and interview as part of a quiet series we’ve been producing discussing the nature of leadership. Below is the transcription of how the conversation went down… we hope you enjoy as much as we did the intimate perspective Brian shares on the importance of Values and Trust.
Who are you?
My name is Brian Fleming, son of Paul and Ann Fleming, brother to Janice, Paul, and Chris, husband to Sallyanne Bell Fleming, father to Robin, Uncle to 8 Nieces and Nephews, a close friend to some amazing people…and very fortunate because of it.
What do you do?
I am managing member of FORT Capital Resources, responsible for the fulfillment of the company’s vision, and ultimately responsible for everything under the roof.
What does FORT Capital Resources do?
The FORT is an equipment finance company that provides finance solutions specific to the acquisition of essential use assets for growing companies. We’re most successful doing what we do when our clients’ business model is heavily reliant on the acquisition of capital assets. The Data Center and Cloud Services space are good examples. They understand the technology and their business plan (where they’re looking to go), and we understand how to navigate the equipment finance landscape to help ensure they take the right path to get there.
How does it feel to be told you are a leader?
It feels good. It brings a sense of responsibility when I hear it. It’s a responsibility that I embrace, appreciate, and respect. Actually, when the topic of leadership comes up, many times I think about my niece and nephews. They’re all individuals, all very unique in their own way, and all leaders in their own right. They’re on the east coast so we don’t connect as often as I’d like, but I still think of them all the time. Recently I bought each of them a card specific to their character and wrote a quick note pointing out that they are leaders, that it’s a responsibility, that they’re handling it just fine, and to just keep doing what they’re doing (what they know is right). Don’t change a thing and Enjoy!
Along the same lines, something I recently wrote in my journal when thinking of leadership:
“Anyone who is truly a part of a team is a leader in their own right. The team leader is the one responsible to be most true in the holding of their values and the fulfillment of the teams’ vision. In times of uncertainty, they’re relied upon to do the right thing.”
Did an event have a strong impact upon you causing you to become a leader?
There are too many to count. To pinpoint something significant, I’d say it was more of the environment I grew up in that had the most significant influence, with my parents and siblings all believing in me and one another. It’s something I find comfort and re-assurance in to this day. I also benefited from being the youngest. My siblings paved the way and made it easy to understand how things are done. Along with that, the town I grew up in (in NJ) was a solid community where I established a number of lifelong friendships. Looking back at it now, I appreciate how fortunate I am to have grown up there; there was a consistency of values and examples of ‘how things are done’ all around me supported by the community.
What qualities are important to you in partnering with another company?
First off, it’s important to point out that a partnership is a unique and meaningful relationship where a number of things need to be present for it to make sense. Trust, Competence, Alignment, and Commitment all need to be there, roughly in that order, but definitely with Trust leading the way. There’s a great book called ‘The Speed of Trust’ that speaks to the importance of Trust that I agree with wholeheartedly. A partnership without Trust won’t work, but if you start with it you’ll be able to quickly determine whether a partnership is worth pursuing together. Both parties obviously need to be capable of fulfilling their role in making the partnership work. Misrepresenting capabilities will kill a partnership and could ruin a relationship as well. It’s likely that values are aligned (starting with Trust). It is also important to get aligned on what the goals are, how you plan to achieve them, who is responsible for what, who receives what, etc. Then it’s time to put the plan together, keeping the strengths and limitations of the respective groups in mind, and get commitment from both sides. Execute. Once the partnership is in motion it’ll be important to maintain an open line of communication, have a gauge of success, and work as a team with a commitment to make it work.
What business values are important to you in running your business?
My business values coincide with my life values. There are a core set that I believe are the ingredients to a bigger picture. I have a slightly different definition to what you might find in the dictionary. My definition serves me well.
- Integrity, defined as: Being honest with yourself (it always starts here), being honest with others, and doing what you say you will. Pretty self-explanatory why this is important.
- Transparency, defined as: Being clear and open about your intentions, what you’re looking to accomplish, and the path you plan to take to achieve those accomplishments. It’s a very efficient way of communicating in determining whether you’re aligned with whoever you’re working with. Plus, it’s good to be conscious of the use of your time and others. No need to spin wheels.
- Accountability, defined as: Being aware of and accepting responsibility for your role when things go right as well as when they go wrong, while staying committed to driving towards a solution. This value is very important, especially for Entrepreneurs or any Professional looking to advance in their career really. No one is perfect, you will fail, and if you’re looking to accomplish something significant you’ll fail a lot, but how you fail is what will determine whether you make real progress or not. Do you sweep things under the rug and hope they fix themselves, or do you own up to your role in the equation, accept the responsibility, and drive to a solution? Get over it, forgive yourself, forgive others, learn, and move forward.
- Ambition, defined as: Maintaining a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work. This is the catalyst of the group. This drives things forward and ensures actions are made with purpose and there’s a pursuit for constant improvement.
If you keep these values at the core, and consistently stay true to them, you’ll produce a quality subset of ideals that feed off of one another, ultimately leading to the development of a solid character.
A few simple examples…
If you ambitiously go after a goal, are clear in your intentions, and do what you say you will, you’ll gain; ‘fortitude’, ‘passion’, ‘confidence’, ‘boldness’, ‘authenticity’, ‘purpose’, etc.
If you’re honest with yourself, and take responsibility for your mistakes, and maintain a desire to achieve something, you will gain ‘humility’, ‘openness’, ‘clarity’, ‘strive for improvement / kaizen’, ‘calmness’ etc.
If you hold yourself accountable for doing what you say you will, you will ‘set the proper expectations’, ‘practicality’, etc.
The combinations go on and on to sustain a pretty awesome grouping of ideals.
When you’re speaking of business, you have to add Competence to the equation…otherwise it’s just a feel good exercise. Adding Competence you have a measurable variable that speaks to the bottom line of your effectiveness. If you stay true to your values, are successful in your efforts, then you’ll gain Credibility. With all of those ingredients you’ll build solid relationships based on Trust, and Trust is the most powerful element of a successful relationship.
What lessons have you learned that you feel make you stronger?
There was a business relationship where I learned the hard way that our values were not aligned. In the end I realized I needed to choose my path and stay true to it. Although I had invested a lot into making the effort successful, I had to move on and pursue my passion. From that, my evaluation process on trust has matured. I work with people whose values resonate with mine. It was a valuable lesson in a number of ways and helped in how I deal with negative experiences. “Don’t let the bastards bring you down” is something my Father has shared (at the perfect time) along with a wealth of other sage advice that I’ve finally learned to pay attention to. All of which has helped to clarify what’s important and what I should focus my energy on.
I’ve also learned over time to be very comfortable with knowing what I know and knowing what I don’t. It makes it easy to communicate and relate to anyone I engage with, especially in business. Whether it’s a CEO, or an Engineer, or even a young new employee, I enjoy relating to the person, sharing what I know and offering my perspective, inquiring about what they know and listening to their perspective, while absorbing and processing their input best I can. Everyone’s perspective is relevant. I know for a fact that taking this approach has made me stronger and more valuable to my clients, partners, and friends.
How do you soothe yourself when you feel bad?
First I breathe. I meditate. I take deep breaths and try to dwell on the good. If there is something bugging me I’ve found it to be an effective meditative approach to ask the question ‘why’ until I get to the root cause. I’m honest with myself and realistic about all factors including my role in the equation, so I can determine how to best address and solve the issue. Also, in order to navigate to the root cause and the ultimate resolution I rely on my values to help guide me. Sometimes when it’s hard to determine the root cause or find a resolution I just step back and let go. Let it be for a while and return with a new found perspective. A lot of times it seems to be a good inward path to a solution. There is comfort in clarity, but you may have to go through some short term discomfort to get there. I believe the practice of asking ‘why’ was first used by Toyota (i.e., the 5 Why’s).
What is your support system?
Well, my family and friends obviously play a major part. Now we’ve added my baby daughter to the picture which adds an entirely different level of inspiration and support. In business I’ve also established relationships and partnerships built on trust that have proven to be an amazing source of inspiration and support. And when I say support, it’s not just that I can rely on them to acknowledge, re-assure, and instill confidence, but I can also rely on them to be honest in providing positive criticism, and call me out when necessary. I appreciate them checking in to make sure I’m holding myself to the proper standard. That said, I also take the responsibility of doing the same for them seriously.
What one message would you like to leave behind?
The answer to most complex issues is a simple solution.
The path you choose to reach a destination is what’s significant.