Bryan Brenner

Lessons from Entrepreneurial Leaders Featuring Amy Knauer

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Bryan Brenner

I’m delighted this week to introduce Amy Knauer, newly appointed Chief Operating Officer of FirstPerson. Amy returns to our firm after eight years away. Hers is a remarkable story. Amy was the third person I hired in the early years; together we formed and built what is now FirstPerson. She rejoins our team of nearly 70 people with rich experience we are depending upon to strategically guide our lofty growth goals.

BKB: Amy, you have a unique perspective on what we do at FirstPerson. Can you talk about that journey?

ARK: I believe our cause has always been to take the very best care of our customers. That manifests in the benefit plans we design, how we relate to our employees, and the financial decisions we make.

The heart of FirstPerson is an absolute passion for the customer experience. As my very first entrepreneurial experience, being part of the early team has imprinted on me the necessity of good care. And that is important internally, too – taking care of one another with exceptional experiences.

BKB: How does this mindset translate in your daily work?

ARK: As a leader, I wake up every thinking about this core mission. And thinking about whether we are poised to do that. Are people in the right places? Do they have what they need? Connecting in is critical. The way we deliver internally to support the ultimate cause of delivering exceptional care for our customers. As an entrepreneur this is vital to grow our business.

BKB: How do you get the right people into the right places?

ARK: My philosophy about recruiting is that it’s important to take the time to get to know someone. And have them know us. We need to be really clear about who we are and how we work, so it can resonate with a potential team member. It takes multiple rounds of conversation to get a sense of who this person is, what they’ve experienced, and what they value. And then to use that information to offer the best possible insight back to the candidate as to a potential fit.

I hope a candidate is paying attention to whether FirstPerson is a good fit for him or her. We want them to be excited about our desire to take excellent care of our customers. The recruiting process is a good opportunity to have those real conversations and be transparent about what we value. I always look for a spark that affirms that someone is the right fit for the culture and for the role.

BKB: Tell us a little bit about your leadership style.

ARK: I want my people to be positioned for success. I think it’s important for each of us to have an attitude of “I’m empowered, I’m the master of my own destiny, I’m not a victim here.” I want my people to wake up and know that they can be successful. That they have avenues to work differently, in a way that allows them to do their best work. My job as a leader is to support and affirm their empowerment.

BKB: Our leadership team has been talking about change management, how to get our full team on board with new initiatives that position us for growth. What’s your thinking on going about this?

ARK: I go back to an early theme we frequently talked about: “Believe it, live it.” This speaks to having strong agreement and being aligned as a senior leadership team, which can take multiple conversations to get to. There are levels of believe it…Best is “I’m on board, I’m going to adopt this, and move forward.” Sometimes it’s “I can live with this, I’m going to adopt and move forward.” Consensus is OK. But when you get there, we must move forward in aligned support.

Our job is not to convince our team of anything. We’re charged with fostering understanding and inviting people in. Providing clear and consistent communication about where we’re going helps people get aligned and also realize that they are part of the process. That what we decide to do is “OUR” decision, not “THEIR” (leadership’s) decision.

Amy Knauer, COO of FirstPerson, is in her element in the Pacific Northwest and its amazing geography. She masterfully executes on her leadership role from Portland, Oregon.

Next time join us for Jim Danko, president of Butler University.