Level Up Leadership: Michael Bruemmer

Listen to the podcast (FULL TRANSCRIPT):

Level Up is a podcast for anyone interested in improving their leadership skills. The series is designed to help you get to know the leaders of Experian and gain insight into the skills needed to grow your career.

You can subscribe to Level Up Leadership on iTunes, Google PlaySoundCloud and Spotify.

Most recently, we spoke with Michael Bruemmer, VP of Experian Data Breach Resolution and Consumer Protection. With more than 25 years in the industry, Michael has handled some of the nation’s largest breaches over his tenure with Experian. He is a respected speaker and presents to industry organizations across the country on the topic of data breaches and provides insight to many trade and business media outlets including Dark Reading, IT Business, CIO, Info Security, Security Week, Health IT Security, Wall Street Journal, American Banker and others.

Here are a few takeaways from our discussion with Michael:

Valuable experience can come from anywhere.
Michael had a variety of jobs including mowing lawns, caddying at a golf course and working in a slaughter house for Oscar Mayer. Michael learned a lot of the leadership skills he has today working for Oscar Mayer. For example, he was charged with supervising a crew of people twice his age, something that taught him a lot in a short amount of time. Don’t underestimate the valuable lessons certain gigs can give you!

There’s a lot more to discover outside of your bubble.
Michael has some very unique experience working overseas in various parts of Europe, and he acknowledges those years spent across the ocean were very formative for not only his career but his personal life as well. As he stated, “When you get out there, you realize that [where you are] isn’t the center of the universe. There are a lot of other cultures out there to experience.”

Have a vision.
The entire point of leadership is doing a good enough job so that others might want to follow you, and that won’t happen unless you, the leader, have a clear vision of where you and your team are going. Once you have an idea of what needs to be accomplished, your team will be able to work toward that vision, too. One way Michael communicated this to his team at the slaughterhouse was by having a regular huddle at the start of every shift to discuss what happened on the previous shift, what needs to be accomplished, how they are going to get it done and what was expected of everyone that day.

Be the person who helps.
We all know by now that simply telling others what to do doesn’t constitute as leadership. Michael’s best advice for emerging leaders is to be unafraid to get your hands dirty and help your team. By helping your direct reports, taking roadblocks out of their way, giving them resources and coaching them, you are not only elevating overall performance, you are also priming the next set of leaders, and we should always take pride in that.

Make sure you have a win every day.
“Make Your Bed” by Admiral William McRaven helped Michael understand that life feels a lot better when you make sure you have a win every day. The premise is that no matter how small the win—even if it’s just making your bed nice and tidy—you should feel empowered to celebrate it. Like Michael pointed out, even if it isn’t significant to others, you can say to yourself, “Hey, I’m making progress and I’m putting one foot forward.”

Find your helplines.
Sometimes it will feel hard to keep on trudging on, as life inevitably throws you unforeseen obstacles, and it’s important that you know where you can get help—whether that’s with your colleagues, a resource group, your boss or a friend. As the father of a son who has fought against substance abuse, Michael knows the importance of identifying your resources and taking advantage of them so that you have the ability to not only continue on with your job but feel safe enough to bring your whole self to work every day. Michael advises that everyone practice the art of empathy and be more mindful of the fact that work does not always take center stage.

Pay attention to your organizational agility.
This just means you aren’t afraid to get down in the weeds and work side-by-side, but you’re also just as comfortable walking into the CEO’s office and having a conversation. Whether you’re “wallowing with the hogs or soaring with the eagles,” as Michael put it, you have to get used to creating and maintaining relationships at every level of the organization.

We were so happy to have the opportunity to chat with Michael for Level Up.

Check out interviews with other Experian leaders.

Full Transcript

Mike: Hey everybody. Welcome to the Level Up Leadership podcast. My name is Mike Delgado.
Patty: My name is Patty Guevarra.
Mike: This podcast is designed to help you get to know the leaders here at Experian and also gain insight into leadership skills and traits needed to grow our careers.
Patty: In this podcast we’ll talk mentorship, career navigation, handling rejection, work-life balance, mental health, diversity and inclusion, and so much more.
Patty: Today we’re talking with Michael Bruemmer, Vice President of Experian Data Breach Resolution and Consumer Protection. If you can just tell us about your background, educational and professional, and then a little bit about what you do here at Experian?
Mike B.: Sure. So I’m Mike Bruemmer, I’m responsible for the global data breach business and also have a sort of secondary role as being a spokesperson for consumer protection. In fact, I’m going to be speaking in the next week or so doing a little media tour on our 2020 predictions for the data breach business. It’s the seventh year in a row that we’ve done this, and we’ve got some real good ones and I can probably come back to that later.
Mike B.: But I was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. I graduated, I did two years of undergrad at Wake Forest University, so I’m not only a Demon Deacon but I finished up at Wisconsin, and I’m very proudly a Cheesehead, as well as a Badger fan. And one of the things that people know about me when I tell my story is that I did the typical jobs working, mowing lawns, and caddying at the golf course, but the one that made the biggest mark on me when I put myself through school, working in at a slaughterhouse at Oscar Mayer-
Patty: Oh, God.
Mike B.: … doing all the jobs on the kill floor and then going into the union for a year, or two years, and then flipping over to be a supervisor when I was a junior in college and supervising a crew of people that were twice my age.
Mike D.: Wow.
Mike B.: So I learned a lot in a very short period of time. Not only good work ethic but how do you lead people without being in a position where you can say, “Do as I say, not as I do”, because you didn’t have any credibility when you were just a kid in college, and some people were almost my parents’ age. So it was a very, it was an interesting time and I learned a lot. And then I moved around quite a bit with my jobs with Oscar Mayer, with PepsiCo, and I had an opportunity to spend a total of about seven years overseas in two different trips with PepsiCo, in Western Europe, Northern Europe, and then Eastern Europe-
Mike D.: Wow.
Mike B.: … refranchising some communist bottling operations to be company-owned operations. And as I tell people, one of the things that’s most interesting if you’re a United States citizen is when you get outside the United States and you realize that the US isn’t the center of the universe for a lot of other places.
Patty: Yeah.
Mike B.: And a lot of other cultures out there to experience. So that’s kind of what has made me who I am, those experiences growing up, and then traveling overseas definitely impacted me from both a personal and a professional aspect because I met my wife over in the UK. She worked for our British bottler, Britvic Soft Drinks when I was at PepsiCo, and have been married almost 30 years. We have four kids, and I’m proud to say that I’ve got another half a semester left before I get the last one off the payroll.
Mike D.: That is awesome. Can we go back to you being in college and getting put in a position to now managing people who are much older than you and you’re so young. I think that a lot of us would probably feel very uncomfortable and even not even sure how to do this, how to maneuver, especially with your age. Can you talk about how you kind of dealt with that?
Mike B.: Well, Mike, what helped me most, honestly, was having the two years prior where I actually was a union member and I worked in the slaughterhouse as well as I worked in the… so it was basically a small meat department. But I had to be disciplined, I had to understand the rules of the road. I was making a lot of money at the time. I mean, I can remember it was $10.76 an hour in 1975/76 what I was making, so that was a lot of money. But I realized I didn’t want to be in that position, it wasn’t a long-term career, and I thought the best way for me to expand my horizons was just to ask to come back as a supervisor, and I was really lucky. And it was fortuitous that my boss was the grandson of Oscar Mayer.
Patty: Wow.
Mike D.: Oh, wow.
Mike B.: So it was Hale Mayer, and he was working his way through the management ranks and he happened to be my supervisor. And he told me, he said, “Mike, all you have to do is be yourself. Don’t act like you know it all. Want to learn, and want to help out, and you’ll be just fine.” And it was those simple pieces of advice that overcame the fact that I was much younger than the other folks, and maybe I was much different than other supervisors who would have come in and tried to boss them around, do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do-type attitude. So I took the high road, and I had a bunch of guys on second and third shift, and when you’re on second and third shift in a big meat packing plant, especially third shift, you don’t have anybody to turn to. I phoned my boss once a day and it was at the end of the shift when I was getting off in the morning.
Mike B.: So yeah, I could have phoned a friend, but if something went sideways, people’s lives were in my hand because we were operating smokehouses, we were moving palletized stacks of meat that were a couple thousand pounds. It was kind of a dangerous situation, so you’d better have been right on, you’d better have been safety-conscious, you’d better have been respectful of your elders, so to speak, and it worked out quite well. We got along fine. I mean, there’s lots of stories I probably wouldn’t want to tell on this, but for the most part, I did okay.
Mike D.: What were some things that you learned about being a good leader during that period of time that you have taken with you?
Mike B.: Well, to this day I subscribe to the simple form of leadership, you got to have a vision, and then more importantly, you got to get other people to follow that vision, and that was so true even working with the situation with Oscar Mayer. And I always thought it was important that every night when everybody came in, we all came together, and they weren’t doing it when I took over the place. We sat down for about 15 minutes, and we talked about what was expected, what production we had to do during that shift, what happened on first shift or second shift, and then we always had a mutual expectation, okay, here’s where we’re going to finish, here’s what’s going to get completed, here’s where we have to do our part as part of the value chain of what was expected for the department for the week.
Mike B.: And nobody had done that before with these guys, so they felt like, oh, wow, I get the bigger picture. And then last but least in this process about getting other people to follow you is that once they understood what needed to be done, I always spent time with everybody, even if it was walking alongside of them just talking about what was happening with their job, or if they needed some extra help, I’d get them some extra help and put two guys on a task. They felt like, okay, here’s a guy who really understands and is trying to help me out. And of course, you think everything’s fine until you’re faced with your first challenge, and I realized when something went bad when we had a smokehouse breakdown in that first summer and we had to move some product, and I had guys, not only from my department but other department came over to help.
Mike B.: And as many people know in a union environment, you don’t help other people out with their job. That’s normal, it’s not my job, I’ll stick to my stuff. It’s not allowed to do that. My guys were much more of, hey, wait a minute, we got to get this done. We’re all in this together, we like the situation, let’s all pitch in. And when it happened the first time, I was like, “Oh, wow, is this supposed to be that way?” And I talked to some of my other peers in other departments that were supervising, going, “I can’t even get my guys to do their own job, let alone help someone else out.” So I felt pretty fortunate.
Mike B.: So I learned at that point that the idea that letting people know the big picture, helping them out, taking roadblocks out of their way, giving them resources, or also helping coach them. Because I was also proud to say that the summer after I left as a supervisor, one of my guys on my first crew became a supervisor as well, and it was partly because I’d recommended him and spent some time with him. So it was a great memory and a great way to start in leadership.
Patty: You mentioned earlier that you realized at one point that you didn’t want to make a career out of your job at the slaughterhouse. I’d like to know more about how you came to that realization and what the process looked like, pivoting your career into something else.
Mike B.: I could give you a really good, glamorous answer, but when you’re sitting at 3:00 in the morning and you’re in a blast freezer that’s -17 below, and you have to help some guys move frozen meat out to thaw out for the first shift production, and then two of the guys go home because they’re sick, and you still got to get stuff done. And you look up into the sky and you go, “What the hell am I doing here?” That’s how I decided I didn’t want to do this for a living.
Patty: Right, right. And what was your next move? What did you decide to move into after that?
Mike B.: Well, I liked the environment so much, and I was very appreciative that Oscar Mayer gave me an opportunity to do a union job as well as a supervisory job for a couple summers, and so I went into what they called a pre-management training program. There were nine of us that were selected from all across the country, and we went through every front end office department, because I’d already done the manufacturing side of it. And I got to be a mentee of one of the executives, and then I got assigned to my first plant outside of Madison. I went to Philadelphia, where, you think the unions were tough in Madison, Wisconsin, Philadelphia, the second night on the job I had all four of my tires slashed in the parking lot.
Mike D.: Oh, wow.
Patty: No.
Mike B.: And then that same night I had everybody walk off. I was the third shift superintendent. It was a smaller facility than the one in Madison, but they all walked off the job, and I had to call my boss and say, “I don’t think we’re going to get started in the morning because everybody’s walked off the job. What do I do?” And he goes, “They’ve walked off? They’re insubordinate? We’ll figure it out. I’ll be in in a little bit”, and he walked me through. We ended up firing everybody and rehiring folks. We missed a full shift of production because of it, but he said, “You did the right thing. You didn’t flinch. These guys were just trying to test you, and we’re not going to put up with it.”
Mike B.: So I also learned the value of having a boss who has your back, and that’s really important for you to be successful in any role, and to be good in an organization you have to have a boss that “has your back.” And I’ve been fortunate at Experian working now for David Proctor, but I worked for Jen Leuer, I worked for Guy Abramo, and under Ty Taylor, and all of them, I can say, always have had my back.
Mike D.: Hmm. I love that. And I’m curious now as you manage your team, what are some ways that you are building relationships with your employees, and having their back?
Mike B.: It starts with, first of all you have to be transparent. You have to be able to walk the walk and set an example. You have to, again, back to one of my earlier answers, they have to know what the expectations are and the big picture and how does their role fit into what the big picture is, and what you’re trying to accomplish. And then I also think that you learn a lot with employees when the chips are down and you’re working together in a difficult situation that they feel like we’re coming together as a team. There’re not many roles at Experian where it’s just an individual competition. You have to rely on your teammates, and I think a leader differentiates themselves when they don’t criticize, they don’t ask a ton of questions, they come and they say, “Hey, how can I help you” no matter what the situation is. And do your peers, and can your leader rally the rest of the team to help various people out in their individual times of need?
Mike B.: I think that separates the people that just show up and are managers versus the people that are truly leaders.
Patty: You mentioned earlier that you spent seven years overseas in various parts of Europe with PepsiCo. I want to know how, or if you have any tips for leaders who might be going to another area of the world and how they can kind of make sure that their leadership style translates into that different culture, just because, like you said, America’s not the epicenter of the world. So do you have any tips regarding that?
Mike B.: Three things. One, culture is super important and you need to be understanding, respectful, and have spent time studying that culture. Second, along with that, I think it’s really important, you don’t have to be fully literate and conversational in the language, but you have to know enough to be dangerous. I use the example, one of my stops was in Slovakia, and I learned Slovak along with my wife.
Patty: Oh, my gosh.
Mike B.: And we could understand just about any conversation. We could carry on what I call daily life conversations around going to the potraviny or going to a restaurant and that. But I never, ever put myself in a position where I had to negotiate a contract in Slovak, because I would have been a little bit over my head. But it meant a lot to be in someone else’s country and to appreciate the culture and learn the language. And then third, always to be cognizant that you were a guest in somebody else’s house, so to speak, and that you had to kind of subvert a little bit of your US-centric behavior. Because it’s easy to tell an American overseas in just about any country, but in Eastern Europe in particular, the further east you go, the more you stand out. So it’s not always to be… it’s just to be respectful and blend in more, and I think that helps a great deal.
Mike B.: It’s being humble, and I think that’s one of the things that got us… We made very good friends wherever we lived overseas. We were invited in, in fact, one of the families that looked after our kids, we still keep in touch with after 25 years. Their kids have come over and stayed with us in the States, and we still keep in touch with them versus social media, and that is kind of fun.
Patty: Yeah, that’s really nice. Was there an actual moment where you realized you needed to kind of work harder at understanding the culture? Did something happen, or did you just kind of walk into it knowing that there was going to be extra work to do?
Mike B.: We planned on learning the language. The toughest thing, honestly, was every time you met with a business leader in Slovakia, there was always alcohol involved [crosstalk 00:19:57] store owner. And I realized very quickly that you have to go in, sit down with the shopkeeper, we were going out with one of the route drivers, and again, back to being able to, you have to walk the walk, ride the route trucks. Even though I was the general manager for the business, I wanted to make sure I experience everything from the ground up. But this idea, 8:00 in the morning that you’re doing shots of the local lighter fluid-
Patty: Oh, my God.
Mike B.: … and [crosstalk 00:20:29]. You can’t keep that up for 20 stops, otherwise you won’t make it.
Patty: Right, right.
Mike B.: So it’s good to experience the culture, but there are limits, and you have to appreciate there’s times when you can say no. The other story I loved telling about the culture is that, of course in Eastern Europe in general, and particularly before the Velvet Revolution and the Berlin Wall coming down, bribery was rampant, especially with Western companies. It was a pay-to-play environment, and of course, not only was PepsiCo very strong about not doing it, it was my personal belief you didn’t have to do it. So I set an example with my team, we’re not going to pay bribes, we’re never going to be in that situation, but what we had to do was be creative. We had problems with product approvals with the Slovak Ministry of Economics that was doing the product approvals. And what we found out was, they said, “You’re going to have to pay us to expedite this stuff”, which, there’s nothing on the books about paying fees.
Mike B.: We said, “No, we’re not going to do it.” I said, “What’s the real problem?” Said, “Well, we don’t enough lab equipment to do all the testing. We’re backed up here.” And I said, “What if we bought you new lab equipment?” Could we get our stuff approved in a faster time?” And so what we did, we made a donation to the Department of Economics that did all this, and instead of having it take six weeks to get our products approved, we got it done in six days. And Coca-Cola still had to wait for six weeks, so it was kind of fun.
Patty: That’s crafty. I like that.
Mike D.: I love how you’ve kind of just very early in your career just kind of moved into all these really interesting positions, being in leadership roles, moving to different countries. What were some of the qualities you had that PepsiCo, Oscar Mayer, that they saw in you to elevate you into leadership roles so early on?
Mike B.: I give a lot of credit to my parents. They raised me with a pretty good self-esteem. They taught me that I can do anything that I put my mind to, and they also taught me never give up. And so to move overseas and try something new wasn’t that big of a deal, and don’t get me wrong. Even moving to England, the first time outside of the States to work there, I was, quite frankly, scared out of my wits. And we spoke the same language, the UK is one of the cultures that is as close to the US as anybody, maybe outside of Canada, and it still was tough. And so under the circumstances, I learned never to give up and to try certain things, and even something else my parents always taught me was, hey, don’t be afraid to try, when you go to a restaurant, try something new, or try different food, or try something else.
Mike B.: And when you’re outside of your environment, especially in a foreign country, to do those things, obviously being careful, helps you. And people are appreciative of the fact that you’re not just bringing your same old way of life over to their country and transplanting yourself, and so that helped me a lot, and I have a lot to thank my parents for just because of that, and that learning.
Mike D.: Yeah. I think what’s interesting is having that early support was really powerful for you, and it gave you that courage to go ahead and jump into these new opportunities, even though it might not have felt super comfortable, but you were like, “Yeah. You know what, I can do this. I’m going to try this out. This’ll be a good learning opportunity for me.” How did you deal with some of the fears early on? Because when you try something new, especially managing people, it’s very easy to be fearful, imposter syndrome can creep in. I’m kind of curious how you managed those feelings.
Mike B.: There’s an admiral from Austin where I live, General, I should say Admiral William McRaven. And he wrote a book, I think he’s written one since this one, but the one he wrote is called Make My Bed. And I love it because what it talks about and the whole premise of the book is, for you to be a successful person you need to have wins in every part of your day. And so getting up first thing in the morning, making your bed and making it look nice, and especially in the military, you know, for inspection you got to bounce a quarter off and all that, it was something that he did every single day, took great pride in, and hey, he had a win. So to answer your question, Mike, whenever things got tough, and whenever I was scared, whether it was business or personally, I’ve always tried to get a win.
Mike B.: It may be small, it may not be significant to other people, but I can say, “Hey, I’m making progress. I’m putting one foot forward, I’m just chipping away at a mountain of a problem”, and I can say, “I can do this.” And the hardest step is always your first one. Even when things are going well, but when things are down you’re just looking for a win. And so what I’ve tried to do was always find that first win, and then, okay, I can get that one and the second one, and there you go.
Mike D.: I like that. I’m curious about some of your routines that you do to kind of make sure that you’re always having those wins to kind of keep you going. Do you have any personal routines or routines at work that you’re doing, kind of like what the Admiral says about making your bed? I’m kind of curious about, what are some of your kind of routine wins that you are trying to accomplish every day or every week?
Mike B.: I’m a morning person. I don’t mind getting up early. One of my routines that I try to do with a group of buddies in town and we do it Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is, at 6:00 AM we go for a, I call it urban bike riding. So we’re on roads, we’re a little off road, but it’s generally around Lake Austin. And living downtown we have a wonderful trail that goes around Lake Austin and that. So what we try to do is get up, and we ride. So I love the fact that I can get exercise, I love the fact that I can hang around with a couple guys from work, or old friends, and we get a chance to chat, too. We end up at the end of the ride, which is 20 or 25 miles, have a cup of coffee, and we started our day right.
Mike B.: The other two things that I try to do regularly, I try to pray every day, and that gives me a real grounding. I have meditated, although I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t kept up with that. But I did learn to meditate and realized it wasn’t as hard as I thought. It sounds a lot more complex than it is, but you need to simplify it. And then the other thing that I really enjoy, we’ve had one of our sons that went through an addiction issue, and I’m really proud to say that in a week he’ll be two years sober, and doing great.
Patty: That’s great.
Mike D.: That’s awesome.
Mike B.: Participating in the Al-Anon program, which is the family side of Alcoholics Anonymous. So there’re two separate groups, but the Al-Anon program and the 12 step process, as supporting someone else, whether it’s a child or you’re a son or daughter of an alcoholic, it’s a wonderful program, I can’t say enough. They have daily readings, and I use the daily readings in my business, as well. And I think it’s funny we laugh at the Al-Anon meetings, I said, “You know, all business people should actually be forced to come to Al-Anon meetings because they’ll learn a lot about some of the disciplines and things to do.” So those are just a couple routines that I follow.
Mike B.: But exercise is important, daily prayer, and then the Al-Anon program most recently. And I’m-
Mike D.: There can be a mess going on, right? There can be illness, there can be problems, and kind of juggling all that can be, at times, very, very overwhelming. And I wonder if you can kind of speak to kind of how you navigate those waters when life is tough at home, and then you get to work, and work is tough, and how you kind of navigate that?
Mike B.: People that have worked with me or worked for me, or have been my colleagues know I’m pretty much an open book, so when I was going through the depths of when my son wasn’t sober and had progressed from casual drinking to smoking pot, and eventually got into heroin, albeit briefly, which was great, but, that it didn’t go any further. People knew what was going on. Now, it took me a while to be that open about that particular thing, but I wasn’t going to hide it. I’m not the type of person that tries to keep everything compartmentalized or private, it’s just my style.
Mike B.: I believe that you need to use your resources around you, and there will be times when something goes bad at home and you may not be having the best day. And even though it’s not intentional and everybody generally comes to work and tries to do their best thing, but sometimes you’re not always on your game and you need to be able to be empathetic with those people that walk in that way, and you have to be real and to generate other people understanding that that’s the environment that we operate here at Experian. And I think Experian has done a wonderful job creating the environment where you can come in and be real. And if you do have issues, regardless of what’s going on and how they are, there’s a way, whether it’s one of the employee resource groups, whether it’s helpline, whether it’s your boss, we’re very, very lucky.
Mike B.: And I’m so proud of the fact, and I’m on social media quite a bit talking to other people about, look at what a great place Experian is for inclusiveness, for diversity, for being a great place for people regardless of where they come from or what issues or opportunities they have, we’ve got a way to support you so that you can be the best employee you possibly can be. And that’s helpful too, but I think people, for the most part, when they know what is going on and what is really happening, they’re going to rally around you and help you. It’s much different, and we’re in a different age. Maybe back in the ’80s, and I know it was different then, I was much, probably more different than my colleagues, because I was open about a number of things that weren’t necessarily popular at the time.
Mike B.: And so maybe society’s kind of caught up with the way I’ve always been open, but it’s wonderful to be in that situation right now, and I can tell you that if you’re carrying a load on your mind, it’s okay to bring it in and to talk to somebody about, because that’s life.
Mike D.: Yeah.
Patty: Mike, your bio says that you’re also somewhat of a spokesperson for Experian, so you serve as an expert for Wall Street Journal, American Banker, you’ve been on Fox Business, et cetera. Have you always been a good speaker?
Mike B.: I don’t know if I’ve been a good speaker, but when people stood in line, everybody else backed up and I didn’t realize it and I got picked. So no, in all seriousness I enjoy telling a great story and I have benefited from really good mentors that have helped me with public speaking. In fact, I was talking to someone else earlier about that. I had an executive coach when I was with Dell, that they were really generous about offering this up to me, and they were tough as nails about me, just the old, “Look at your videotape, look how you twitch, look how you um and uh.”
Mike D.: Oh, no.
Mike B.: Tuck your ear, or look up and, you know, all this stuff. And I’m like, “Oh, my gosh.” I hated that so much, but it was so good. And then the media training, between Greg Young and Jerry, and Sandra Bernardo, they’ve been fabulous in helping me hone my skills. And last but not least, I like talking about the good stuff that we’re doing, because the things that we do, especially in the breach business, we actually help consumers dramatically, either avoid suffering identity theft protection, or in the depths of identity theft protection we help them unwind the problems back to pre-event status. That’s really good work, and I’m always delighted to tell people about that, or even talking about other things like Boost, or the things that we’re doing with community service projects that we do, the ERGs.
Mike B.: I mean, I’m involved in two ERGs here heavily in Austin, as well as some other community service projects. I love telling people about that so it’s a pleasure, it’s really not a task at all. I enjoy it.
Patty: Do you have any tips for people who don’t have access to an executive coach or a PR team that’ll help with media training on how they can hone in on public speaking, because I know that’s an issue for a lot of people who want to be leaders.
Mike B.: I started just keeping my eyes open and looking for somebody that I thought carried themselves well or even did a particular tactic or a situation, because it’s much different talking to a journalist over a phone versus being on a morning talk show when the lights are on, camera’s in your face and you got a producer in your ear. You learn tips of the trade, and if you just are open to asking questions, I’ve even found that people that don’t know me or I’ve been referred to, especially go up and say, “Hey, I understand you do this really well”, or, “I’ve read your article”, or “You were published in this book”, and you talk to them, people are willing to help you.
Mike B.: I haven’t had anybody that’s told me, “Hey, go pound sand”, when I’ve asked for help, and it doesn’t cost you anything.
Patty: Right.
Mike B.: And then the other thing, too, is if you think somebody does really well, you can watch now in the days of social media and YouTube and everything else, you can find a lot of self help stuff, but one thing I would let people know in terms of public speaking, you always have to be yourself and find a style that works, but you can learn how not to do it also from some people that you can just turn on the TV at night and go, “You know what, that wasn’t a very good statement”, or, “They weren’t looking at the interviewer”, or, “They weren’t looking in the camera”, or, “They avoided the question.” You can learn a lot that way.
Mike B.: So there’s a lot in this day and age where everybody is a spokesperson and has access to media, you can learn a lot just by sitting down in front of your computer.
Mike D.: Mike, you’d mentioned a few times about having mentors, and even early in your career having someone who was looking out for you and giving you guidance. I’m curious about some of the advice you’ve received over the years that has been, maybe painful at first, but has really, really helped you in improving your own leadership skills.
Mike B.: I talked earlier about the pre-management training program, which was my first out of college job program that I went into with Oscar Mayer. And I had an executive who was, he was basically the head of operations for all of Oscar Mayers, his name was Jerry Hiegel. And he was a gregarious guy, and he coached me on, even though there wasn’t a competition as such for the program, there was. It was the old, kind of wink, wink, nod, nod, and so he said, “Mike, this is how this thing works, this is how life works. I want you to be the best.” He was one of those guys like, took me under his wing like his son, said, “You’re going to be the best. You’re going to be the first one to complete this project, you’re going to be the first one to show up at meetings and do all that.”
Mike B.: And I was doing really well the first half of the program, and I had a project that I missed the deadline on because I couldn’t count on people, or I didn’t organize the engineers to come at the right time. I can’t remember exactly how it went down. But the head of the program sat me down and basically told me, “Hey, Mike, your poop does stink, and you’re not the greatest thing, you’re not always going to win, and you got to realize that, and you better work that much harder when things are difficult.” So the mistake, this not getting the engineers right and missing the deadline on the project, it’s not fatal, but you’ve got to get off your high horse and think you’re always going to be the best.”
Mike B.: And I’m like, wow, that was such a good message at the right time, and a kick in the gut. And he did it in such a way that was such a kick in the gut that it got my attention, but it motivated me in a positive way, and I thought, wow, it’s wonderful. And I’ve taken that attitude all the way to today, where if I have to deliver a tough message, I’ve realized, and Andy Meikle and our training that we’ve done most recently talked about this too, especially when you’re having to exit somebody from the company, says, “Do it quickly, but do it with great caution and humbleness, and don’t be an ass when you’re having to exit somebody out of the company.”
Mike B.: And I’ve always tried to do that when I have to deliver a tough message. Be direct, be humble, be fair, and do it quickly and move on.
Patty: Kind of going off of that, when you’re looking at the talent on your team, how do you separate the good people from the excellent people?
Mike B.: I would say three things. One, their ability to deliver results consistently, time and time again. There are some people, particularly when you’re in sales, that can have a great year once, but they can’t do it time in and time out. I’ll use a guy who a lot of people know in Experian has been around for a while is Ozzie Fonseca. And when it comes to, he was salesperson of the year in 2013, and out of his 15 years here, he’s been to the elite trip, I think 11 times.
Mike D.: Wow. Jeez.
Mike B.: And you just don’t do that unless you’re really good, and you can deliver results all the time. So deliver results consistently. The second thing is, also be able to withstand difficult circumstances and work through those solutions on your own, meaning that you run into a brick wall, you have something not go the way you need to, are you going to work yourself to find a solution or suggest a solution? Doesn’t mean you have to do it yourself, but how do you handle failure? And then last but not least, even in an individual contributor position, how good of a team player are you? And I say that, one, because if you’re a good team player you’ll get other people that will turn right around because you’re a team player and willing to help people without any expectation of anything in return. When the chips are down, if you’re a good team player, you can always tell the good team players because people rally around them.
Mike B.: They’re not the boss, they’re not because somebody said so, it’s because other people want to pay back that favor.
Mike D.: Yeah. I like that, really, really good advice. Michael, before we started today’s show we were talking about some different topics that we could chat about, and you mentioned organizational agility. And when you said that, I was like, what? What does that mean? Can you talk a little bit about what is organizational agility, and why is that something that’s super important to you?
Mike B.: I used the phrase earlier today and it explains it in layman’s terms what the fancy HR term organization agility means. You can wallow with the hogs and soar with the eagles. You’re not afraid when you’re working on a project to get down in the weeds to go and do the stuff that needs to be done and work side-by-side, but you’re also just as comfortable in walking into Craig Boundy’s office and having a conversation with him, and not being afraid to do that. It’s also, on another dimension, creating relationships. I try to teach my kids, who are either Z-ers or Millennials, in that range, it is not what you know, it’s who you know. It’s the relationships that you build. I always think it is super important to reach out to as many people, whether it’s through the places liked LinkedIn, through community service, through your church, and of course, especially your employer because it’s a team game and you got to know. You may not know exactly who you need to get to, but if you know somebody that can get you over or give you advice in that direction, it’s invaluable.
Mike B.: There someone on my team, Colette Parsons, who’s worked for Experian now almost, I think it’s more than 10 years, I believe. And if you need to know anybody in Experian in any division and how to get there, she may not know that person, but she’s going to know who’s going to find that person and how to get there and get stuff done. And that’s really important, especially in our matrix environment.
Mike D.: Yeah, I like that. I’m kind of curious how you kind of practice this relationship building, things you’re doing on a regular basis to make sure that you’re keeping in touch, not only with the people on your team, but also the different divisions. Because here at Experian, yeah, we’re a huge organization, so many people, people are moving around. I’m just kind of curious about how you are just kind of diligent about building those relationships.
Mike B.: Well, I’ve been very lucky this year, I don’t have one boss, I have two bosses, so I report to David Proctor, but I also report to Joe Talbot as a dotted line. So I have a relationship into Stan Oliai’s organization and so it’s been great using Joe’s connections to his peers. I got a chance to be invited to Stan’s staff meeting, and I know some of the folks, but it’s always trying to go out of your way. It sounds kind of cheesy, but in a room where you walk into for the first time, you don’t know people? My wife hates this, but I’m the guy that goes around and introduces myself to everybody, and she’s like, oh, like you go to a cocktail party, she’s like, “Oh, my gosh, do you really?”
Mike B.: And I do it because that’s the way I was raised. Selfishly, for business, I do it because I want to know those people, and because there’ll be somebody that I may have heard their name but never known, and I want them to remember me. Because at some point in time, everybody, and it’s so true, every business is going to have a breach at some point in time, and if people meet me and all they remember, “Oh, there’s that Mike Bruemmer guy, he’s the breach guy, and I’ll find him, I can call him”, that’s all I’m looking for.
Mike D.: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Mike B.: And the other thing also, I think, is really important in building relationships is to be able to mentor and give back. I do it selfishly because I get just as much as the people I mentor out as I hope they do in that relationship, and one of the things that I’m really proud about, someone asked me the other day, “How do you measure your career, your professional career as a success?” And I said, “There are now 17 people that I’ve kept in touch with that are in my LinkedIn network that I worked with and supervised them as a frontline leader when they were my organization, and they have gone from being a frontline performer to at least a vice president or above in their company they work in now.
Mike D.: Wow.
Mike B.: And did I develop all of them from start to finish? No, but I had a hand, and I still keep in touch with them. And I’ve been doing this for 35 years in business, and so I’m really proud of the fact that folks that I’ve had a hand in their career have actually done really well and contributed to their organization because of something that I did maybe way back when.
Mike D.: Yeah. That’s so cool. I love that. I love that you view your success, you wrap it up into how have I helped other people on that path? I think that’s such a great way of looking at it. I’m kind of curious about going back to, you walk into a room and you’re that guy who can just easily navigate the room and just, and [inaudible 00:49:35] your wife like, “Oh, I hate this”, because she just wants to be alone with you, and you’re like, “Oh, I want to meet everyone.” For those, maybe like me, who maybe are more introverted, we go into a room, Mike, and the last thing I want to do is talk to too many people. I want to maybe talk to one person. But your style is that you’re very interested in getting to know people, and it’s very easy for you, it sounds like, to just walk up to people and start a conversation.
Mike D.: But do you have any advice for those who are looking to expand their network? Maybe they’re listening to you and they’re like, “Yeah, you know what? I need to do a better job building relationships, meeting new people, expanding my network, because it’ll really help me just to get my work done at Experian. Any advice for those who are maybe more hesitant when they walk into a room, or maybe there’s on campus and walking around and see people, and there’s, “Oh, I never talk to that person. I need a little motivation to go and do that.”
Mike B.: Well, no matter, and I appreciate, thank you for the compliment, I appreciate that. I would say, no matter how good you are at it, you always find someone who’s even better at it. So a couple things, if you’re more of an introvert, you still have to know or want to know at least one person in the room, at the cocktail party, in the meeting, at the subway terminal, whatever the case may be. If you’re not comfortable with going up and making an introduction on your own, find somebody who knows that person and at least try that as a start. The second thing I would say is that there are some really good examples of how people do network and they may try to schedule a coffee, try to go out and get involved in community service, be more involved in your church, get involved an employee resource group. There’s lots of ways to put you in touch with other people.
Mike B.: And somebody says, “Well, wait a minute. I want to network with more people that can help me in business, why would I want to do something with an employee resource group?” It’s because everybody in every group at Experian, regardless of the association, knows somebody that’s involved with someone else that can help you out doing your job better. I use a case in point that I needed to have some tax documents done, and someone that I didn’t know, I mean, I knew a couple people in the tax department but I didn’t know this particular person, and I found out somebody from employee resource group that said, “Oh, I know, they’re in an employee resource group, the sister group out in Costa Mesa, let me make a phone call”, and I got right to him.
Mike B.: So there is truth to the six degrees of separation. There’s not always the one way to get there, but just learn from other people, ask those questions, try different things, even if you’re quiet about doing it, and other people will also give you advice, too. I mean, I’ve given you a couple pieces of advice, but there’s lots of people that do it much better than I do, and I try to keep learning and see those techniques, and it’s very helpful to keep an open mind and always learn something new. Because the world’s changing fast, and the way people connect, especially on social media, it’s changing the game, big time.
Patty: Right. We are coming up on our hour here, Mike, and the conversation has been amazing, so thank you. Do you have any final words for any of our emerging leaders who are listening to your episode?
Mike B.: Well, I hope at least one person listens, but the thing that I have up on my office wall that I always look at, and I don’t have a lot on my office wall, I’m a minimalist, as people know. But it’s the Teddy Roosevelt saying, and I’ll read it to you because I think it’s honest. “It’s not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong men stumble or where the door of deeds could have been done a little bit better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, sweat, and blood, who strives valiantly, who at best knows in the end that the triumph of high achievement and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
Mike D.: Mmm.
Patty: Mmm. Those are really good final words.
Mike D.: That’s a fantastic quote. I love that. That’s really, really good.
Mike B.: Yeah. I think the title of it is Man in the Arena, and I got that, my wife was kind enough to give it to me for Christmas a couple years ago, and I love it.
Patty: Aw.
Mike D.: I have one last question, Mike. For all the young leaders listening in, maybe they’re new to Experian, maybe they’re in their first year, second year. If you were talking to the young Mike, what leadership advice, career advice would you give a young Mike, because I think this would be helpful for all the young listeners listening in.
Mike B.: I would take as many risks as you possibly can to do stuff that you’re not necessarily comfortable with. My best learnings were at things that were broken, or startups that I wasn’t necessarily qualified or capable of doing at the time, but I was fortunate enough to have other people, particularly my boss at the time, or other people said, “Mike, I think you can do this, and I know there’s nobody else that we have enough confidence in that can do it, so give it a shot.” And at the same time, well, I never bombed or failed miserably, they always said, “Hey, Mike, if you give it your best and you fail, it’s okay. We still have your back.” But it wouldn’t have been unless I took some of those chances, and I would say I probably could have even taken more, and you’ll learn so much more and be better for it, both personally and professionally.
Mike D.: [inaudible 00:56:11].
Patty: That’s really good. I think that’s a good place to end the episode. Thank you so much for calling in and talking with us, Mike.
Mike B.: Well, thank you for having me, and I appreciate it. It’s been fun. You’ve asked some very good questions. You obviously had good practice in thinking about the questions.
Patty: Oh, thank you.
Mike D.: Thank you, Mike. Thank you so much.
Mike B.: All right. Thanks, guys.
Mike D.: Okay.
Mike B.: See y’all.
Mike D.: Take care.
Mike B.: Bye.
Mike D.: Bye. Okay.
Patty: Okay.
Mike D.: Thanks, guys.
Patty: Thank you. Today we’re talking with Mike Bruemmer, Vice President of Experian Data Breach Resolution and Consumer Protection.