Winning at Business by Tying Soft Traits to Hard Results

Daivd K. Williams

David has been a real “go-getter” his entire life. Like many before him, he discovered his entrepreneurial spirit by working a newspaper route as a young boy. After earning a Business Management degree (with an emphasis on Marketing) in 1984, David worked in a variety of industries. He would head Franklin Quest Canada for three years before accepting a position as Managing Director for Covey Leadership’s First Things First Division. Stephen Covey’s book –  7 Habits of Highly Effective People – would have a profound impact on David’s approach to life and business.

David moved on to become the CEO of Performance Catalyst – a business strategy consulting firm based in Utah.  During that time – the late 1990’s – David made frequent drives between the Salt Lake Valley and the Utah Valley. As he drove, he would see the smoke of a failing steel mill and lament its impact to the landscape and the environment. He decided to do something about it and made the bold move to invest time, money and faith into rescuing the mill. Three years and three million investment dollars later – having become the debtor of possession – David was primed to outright purchase the mill. In a less than honorable move, the owners reneged on the deal telling David he was welcome to sue them.

He had pulled out all the stops for this one. David owed bank loans, he’d had local farmers and businessmen commit sweat equity to the project and he had committed all his assets. He had nothing left. Declaring bankruptcy was not an option – he couldn’t face the people who’d accepted the risk and teamed with him. Pondering what to do, he heard a voice – “Ask for time”. That’s what he did and he was given time. He took advantage of that time, worked long and hard and paid back every cent owed to every person. A failure is not a failure if you learn a lesson – and that is exactly what David did. Never again would he leave his fate in the hands of outside investors. 

In 2004, David was approached by friend and business owner, asking for David’s help. Three years earlier, David’s friend had invested in a startup developing inventory management software. Over that time, his investment had ballooned from $250,000 to over $2.5 million with no software solution in sight. He had decided to shut down the company, asking David to take on the unpleasant task of doing so. David wasn’t keen on telling people their project was ending and they’d be out of work, but he agreed to do so simply as a favor to a friend.

In the process, however, a funny thing happened. David felt the optimism and determination of the company’s six employees. He believed them when they said “We’re SO close!” Their enthusiasm and energy made David want to save the company – Fishbowl Inventory. He wanted to be a part of its future. Once again, David asked for time. He asked his friend to delay the shutdown – not to liquidate his investment. The friend agreed. The decision to do so was a wise one. By first quarter 2005, Fishbowl Inventory had become profitable. Five years after that, in 2010, company sales had reached $8 million with 90 employees – all without incurring any debt (lesson learned). 

Later that year, David heard from his friend – the original investor and majority owner – stating that within 90 days he needed to liquidate his remaining 78% share of Fishbowl Inventory. After a great deal of drama and angst, Zion Bank came through at the 11th hour – but only with two-thirds of the money needed. That left a $500,000 shortfall. Employees stepped up offering to refinance their homes, max out their credit cards – whatever it would take to save the company. David was touched, but experience taught him that time and hard work would combine to create a solution. Soon after, Fishbowl was named the first ever Gold Partner for Intuit Inc. – a major financial software company. Being featured on the Intuit website resulted in tremendous new business. Incremental sales revenues covered the shortfall. Not only that, the company paid back the $1,000,000 7-year loan in six months – a full six and one-half years ahead of schedule. David – and his employees – now owned Fishbowl Inventory.

These results were realized through the leadership of a fearless brand – David K. Williams.

Fearless Brands exhibit the 5 C’s of Leadership

David K. Williams brought a unique leadership and management style to Fishbowl – some would call it rather contrarian. The basis of his success is built on what he calls the 5 C’s of leadership – Character, Commitment, Courage, Confidence and Communication. Those are five traits that he exhibits and embraces – encouraging every employee to do the same. Williams believes that if a person exhibits those qualities – they will be good hires because with those traits, they will be successful. The track record of his company and his employees prove him right.

Fishbowl has very low employee turnover – and when someone parts ways, everyone agrees it’s for the best. This is due in large measure to Williams placing importance on his people first – knowing that the numbers will follow. He refers to this as focusing on the ‘soft traits’ to achieve the ‘hard results’. He’s written a book on the subject – The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning: Tying Soft Traits to Hard Results. 

The seven non-negotiables are Respect, Belief, Trust, Loyalty, Commitment, Courage, and Gratitude.

These seven traits are the result of a lifetime of business success – and failure. They are at the core of David’s life and his company. Fishbowl does not have employee reviews. Each person chooses one or two of the seven traits to focus on, writes how they will improve in those areas and sets out to do so. The belief is that as employees improve, the benefit to them and the company will be tangible. When the employee successfully executes their plan, they receive stock options. Contrarian – yet effective! Williams has designated 40% of the company stock to ultimately be owned by employees.

David Williams is in business for the long term. He states that death is his exit strategy. It’s his vision to build a company that will be there for his kids’ grandchildren – and beyond. While there is much to learn from Williams about building a fearless brand, I’ll focus on just three.

Trust your gut – To be successful, according to Williams, one must certainly use their brain and experience. By ‘trust your gut’, Williams means to go with your heart – follow your instincts – trust yourself. I refer to that stage as Conviction, in my 7 C’s of Branding. It’s conviction that is the tipping point to becoming a fearless brand – the surety of self.

Be people focused – For Williams, success in business – in life – is rather basic. Be people focused. It’s his people that make his business successful. Hire people with energy, enthusiasm and dedication. If a person is hard-working, a team player, is teachable, has integrity, is humble, wants to help others and wants to do good things in their life – Williams will hire them. They will be successful and help make his business succeed as well.

Help others succeed – Williams is a prolific writer, contributing weekly articles to Forbes and many other prestigious publications. Why? Simple. He believes that if his content can help even one person to become better – his efforts are completely worthwhile. Don’t be afraid to help others. As presented in The Go-Giver, giving value is a wonderful – and profitable – way to live and do business. 

David K. Williams has a unique approach to his business, but his is the epitome of a fearless brand. He’s found his purpose, fuels it with his passion and engages his vast talent and skill. The result is relevant to David, his family, employees and customers. The ripple effects of which are far-reaching. Follow William’s lead. Fuel your purpose with passion. Build your fearless brand.


To get more detailed insights – listen to Gordon Whitehead’s Leadership24/7 podcast interview with David K. Williams

Friday's Fearless Brand Personal Branding

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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