Compaq Employee #104 Turned Keynote Speaker Karen Walker on How to Create Scalable and Replicable Systems

Show Notes

Karen Walker was employee #104 at Compaq employee as they became one of America’s top companies who now coaches Fortune 500 companies & is a best-selling author. She shares how to create scalable systems. Throughout her career, she has worked with brands such as AETNA, Amazon, Ben and Jerry’s, & more.

  1. Thrive Nation, on today’s show we have the honor of interviewing the incredible Ms. Karen Walker. Karen Walker, how are you!?
  2. Karen, throughout your career you’ve been able to achieve massive success, but before the success, I would love to ask you about how you grew up and what your life was like as a kid growing up?
    1. I grew up in west Texas with oil, sand and Friday Night Lights football.
    2. It was a small town of 100,000 people.
    3. I got a lot of lessons from my parents who told me I could be whatever I wanted to be.
    4. I wanted to go into the oil fields but my parents told me I couldn’t work in the oil fields or play football.
  3. Karen Walker, I’d love for you to share with our listeners about your educational background and what led you to create the success that the world now sees?
    1. I got an engineering degree from Texas A&M. It taught me how to think in a very logical way.
    2. After my graduation, I did some MBA studies at the University of Houston
  4. Can you explain what it means to be a disciplined thinker?
    1. Start with understanding that there are many different perspectives and variables.
    2. Make sure that you can do all that you can do to minimize the blind spots. It’s the stuff that we don’t know about that causes fear.
    3. Be clear about what success looks like.
  5. Karen Walker, I would love for you share about your story, and your career before joining Compaq?
    1. I went to work for a big fortune hundred company. We were building a big facility in the Houston area. I saw a lot of people leaving. There was a lawsuit with another company for poaching employees.
    2. I got many raises, promotions and management experiences here.
    3. I went over and interviewed at Compaq and said “I don’t think I can do this job.” and they disagreed and asked me to join on. I joined because of the people not because of the product.
  6. Karen, at one point during your career, my understanding is that you actually had to ask for $25 million from venture capitalist which, was a huge number at that time. Approximately, what year was this and what was going through your mind when you were asking for $25 million of venture capital investment?
    1. In 1984 I was 25 years old and in a board meeting when I was asked to go out and ask for the capital. My job was to get far enough ahead of the curb to be ready for whatever happened in the future. We were hiring hundreds more people every month than we forecasted.
    2. When I walked in that board meeting, I saw Ben Rosen sitting in the back of the room relaxing. I took a que from him to relax even though I was very nervous. 
  7. Karen Walker, from my understanding you were employee #104 at Compaq Computer. What was life like during the startup days of Compaq Computer?
  8. Karen, my understanding is that at around the age of 25, you were able to grow your team to around 300 people. What was this like and how did you make it happen?
    1. I started as a party of one. I grew my organization to 300 people world wide. I ended up having thousands of employees and contractors worldwide. That was the hardest part of leaving Compaq was leaving my team.
    2. It wasn’t hard to hire people. It was hard to hire the right people.
    3. I was very young and didn’t know a lot then but I learned that you can’t just hire to fill a seat.
    4. I learned to hire for companies further than technical. You have to hire people with a bias for action.
  9. Bias for Action
    1. My preference is to do something. I am a problem solver by nature. It is my strength but if you over use it, it is a weakness. Do something but make sure it is something that is worth doing.
  10. Able to Deal to Ambiguity
    1. When I was younger, I thought that there was only one right answer. I learned that there are many right answers and some are just better than others. You have to deal with ambiguity because there are too many moving parts. The best thing you can do is to create a process to find what is most important and how you can find the answers.
  11. Karen, you decided to write the book, No Dumbing Down. What is this book all about and what first inspired you to write this book?
    1. It is a primer for CEO’s. I haden’t intended on writing a book. The strategies in there are mostly form what I learned at Compaq and the years of consulting I have done.
    2. I help you find what to do after your product has traction.
  12. Karen, your book, No Dumbing Down: A No-Nonsense Guide for CEOs on Organization Growth was written to be a book for a company’s senior-most leaders. It teaches how to do a job only senior leaders can do. Why do you believe that this book is so important for senior leaders to read?
    1. You have to dumb town to the lowest performing team members abilities and I really break down how to do that the best way possible.
  13. Karen Walker, in your book you warn about placing “An emphasis on the short term and the urgent, at the expense of the long view, and the nurturing of scalable, replicable success.” I would love for you to break down for our listeners what you mean by this
    1. An organization will suck your time if you give it. We can’t spend our days running from meeting meeting playing whack-a-mole.
    2. Many people in organizations are just running around solving problems but never step back and look at the bigger game. It is very important to look at the long view and deep dive into the bigger picture. Senior leaders really have to focus on this because they are responsible for the big picture and not just one small department.
    3. You have to avoid the high cost of task switching. You have to take a day or a half a day to look at the big picture. You can’t just do it once per year. The world is changing too fast to go a long period of time without refocusing.
    4. Psychology Today: Americans have 91 interruptions per day.
    5. Advice:
      1. Languaging
        1. Ask how to get a process in place.
  14. What are some of the things you do when consulting?
    1. The first questions are “Why did you contact me?”
    2. I want to find out why they really contacted me.
    3. Usually they want to know what to do and where to be. A lot of the people who contact me don’t know how to put systems in place or don’t know which system to implement.
    4. It is helping the organization to being more efficient.
    5. I align the senior team because if they are not in line, the whole organization is out of line.
  15. Karen Walker, you come across as a very intentional and purposeful person. How do you typically spend the first four hours of your day, and what time do you typically wake up?
    1. The first hours of your day should start the night before.
    2. I review my calendar the night before
    3. In the morning, I wake up with the sun.
    4. I don’t have a lot of calls or interactions in the morning.
    5. I meditate or do yoga to get me grounded.
    6. I then do a brief check of news and email.
    7. The next hours, I do the big things that requires a clear mind.
  16. Karen, if you could recommend one or two books for all of our listeners out there to read. What would they be and why?
    1. Dialogue – William Issacs
    2. The Elements of Power – Terry Bacon
  17. Do you have an idiosyncrasy 
    1. My superpower is that I do a silent meditation retreat twice per year.
    2. This brings me the clarity to my mind and refreshes me when I come back to the workday.

ACTION ITEM: Set time to work ON your business, not just IN the business. Be intentional about planning your day which needs to include “meta time” where you can think about the future of your business.

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