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From Chaos to Cohesion: The Art of Team Building

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Show Notes

In this episode of the Executive Connect Podcast, Melissa Aarskaug and guest Nina Johnson discussed the importance of building diverse teams and shared strategies for managing and leading effective teams. They emphasized the value of bringing in individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, and skill sets to enhance team performance and decision-making. They also shared insights on addressing toxic employees, managing remote teams, rebuilding trust, and effective leadership strategies.

Key Insights:

00:00 – Introduction

01:09 – The Party Analogy
Building the perfect team is like hosting the perfect party. Discussion about the importance of diversity in experiences and thought leadership within teams to stimulate innovation and growth.

04:16 – Evolving Perspectives on Team Building
Early career in their careers, many team builders hire people just like them. Nina spoke about her shift in approach to hiring, moving away from replicating her own skill set towards seeking diverse perspectives and experiences.

06:23 – Interviewing for Diversity:
When starting on an interview process for a team, understand the importance of assessing candidates for their unique perspectives and problem-solving abilities rather than solely focusing on technical skills.

11:54 – Addressing Team Dysfunction
How to handle situations where trust is broken or a team member proves to be toxic. Learn about proactive intervention and, when necessary, restructuring or exiting individuals to maintain team morale and productivity.

15:08 – Filling Team Vacancies
A discussion on strategies for filling team vacancies, prioritizing internal growth opportunities and seeking candidates who complement existing team dynamics and skill sets.

16:47 -Nurturing Remote Team Culture
When it comes to remote work, look for consistency in communication, fostering regular team interactions, and creating opportunities for virtual and in-person connections.

21:43 – Building Trust and Empathy
How important is empathy in leadership? Nina and Melissa gave some examples of accommodating employees’ personal commitments to foster trust and loyalty and spoke about the importance of addressing trust issues directly and facilitating open dialogue to rebuild team cohesion.

23:06 – Key Leadership Principles
A conversation about top leadership principles, including customizing leadership approaches, recognizing the time investment required for effective team building, and trusting oneself to grow and adapt as a leader over time.

Guest Bio:

Nina Johnson is a +20 year veteran in the consumer-packaged goods industry with specialized functional experience, including revenue growth management, go-to-market strategy, business planning and category & consumer insights.

The majority of her career has been working to grow one of the most iconic, recognizable brands in the world, Coca-Cola. She is known to have a strategic mindset with a holistic enterprise approach when solving problems. She can see both the big and the little picture at the same time. Her most recent role was the Vice President of Commercial Channel Strategy and Planning for one of the largest U.S. Coca-Cola bottlers, where she was responsible for developing the go-to-market strategy across the entire Coca-Cola portfolio, and across all channels of trade for the Midwest and West region. She has worked on innovative strategies that span new package pilots, flavor segmentation and retail strategy.

Nina holds an MBA from Kennesaw State University and a dual bachelors degree, one in Business Administration and one in Finance, from DePaul University.


About Melissa Aarskaug:

I’m an energetic executive with 15+ years of experience steering companies to new heights of growth and scale. An engineer at heart (I started my career as an engineering manager on one of the world’s largest concrete bridges), I’ve become a trusted leader and business builder in the technology and cybersecurity space.


Nina Johnson 00:00
And really, building the perfect team is like hosting the perfect party. How do I create a party that has a lot of differing views, age groups and experiences? And that just makes the guests in the conversations a lot more interesting than having the same time people having the same 10 past experiences. So that’s why I think about when I build a team, I don’t want to have everybody with the same skill set the same experience. But really, how do I bring different thought leadership and diversity into the teams?

Narrator 00:39
Welcome to the Executive Connect Podcast, a show for the new generation of leaders. Join Melissa Aarskaug as she speaks to a wide variety of guests that bring new insights into leadership, prosperity, and personal growth. While no one has all the answers, by building a community of open minded and engaged leaders, we hope to give you the tools you need to help you find your own path to success.

Melissa Aarskaug 01:09
Welcome to the Executive Connect Podcast. I’m so excited to have my friend Nina Johnson, with us today to talk about how to grow amazing teams. The majority of her career has been helping one of the most iconic brands, Coca Cola, grow to a $250 billion dollar company and market cap. Thank you so much for joining us today, Nina. We’re happy to have you here.

Nina Johnson 01:32
Thanks, Melissa, for inviting me. I’m really excited to be here.

Melissa Aarskaug 01:37
I’m when I think teams, big teams, lots of teams, lots of people, I think you Nina. I’m so excited for you to tell us a little bit about your background on developing teams and your leadership style. To to grow teams, right?

Nina Johnson 01:54
Yeah, thanks for asking that. You know, I’ve been really fortunate. And I’ve been leading teams the past 14 years. So whether it’s a small group or a large group, hybrid and remote, I have been fortunate kind of leading teams throughout my career. I would say as my time has evolved, my leadership style and how I manage teams has definitely evolved as well. As I think about, you know, I probably led my very first team when I was 26-27. Looking back, I was just a newbie, really excited made tons of mistakes to looking where I have been now managing teams about 15 years later, it is drastically different. And I think as you grow professionally, your leadership styles and then how you manage teams also changes.

Melissa Aarskaug 02:40
Yeah, during the pandemic, everybody learned a new way of managing teams. Right? I think, you know, I know we’ve talked before and you’ve mentioned, leading teams is like a party. What do you mean by that? What does that mean to you?

Nina Johnson 02:55
Yeah, as I thought about, you know, an analogy, I know a lot of people talk about sports analogies. I myself do not play a lot of team sports. So as I think about developing team, I think about, you know, how do I relate that to what I do plan a lot of parties. And really building the perfect team is like hosting the perfect party. And think about that the guests that you invite the people you have on your team. And you know, when you’re in your 20s, and you’re going to house party, it’s probably all your friends from high school college, the same group of people you grew up with probably reminiscing about what you’ve done in the past. And it’s always a look back, right? And you’re always in the same play. But as I’ve grown, both professionally and personally, you know, in my 30s, you know, people often, have new relationships, they get married, they meet their kids, parent, friends, your neighbor friends. So now when you host a party, I think about how do I create a party that has a lot of differing views, age groups and experiences. And that just makes the guests in the conversations a lot more interesting than having the same time people having the same 10 past experiences. So that’s why I think about when I build a team, I don’t want to have everybody with the same skill set the same experience. But really, how do I bring different thought leadership and diversity into the teams.

Melissa Aarskaug 04:16
I love that word. Now diversity, lots of different it’s key to have lots of diverse perspectives and leading teams. And I know I’ve talked a little bit about this before, outside of the podcast, but I know in you nailed it hiring and harnessing diverse perspectives and different age groups and different backgrounds and different experiences. I think the more that you like you mentioned, the older that you get, you have different perspectives. So how has that changed for you over the last few years, growing diverse teams and how have you maybe you could speak a little bit to those different stages and what has prompted Should you to change more as a leader?

Nina Johnson 05:02
Yep, I think about you know, when I first hired, I would say the first couple of years, I was hiring people honestly exactly like me similar type A personality, same skill set, because I think, you know, if I can do it, then I want to hire people just like me. But what that does is it doesn’t bring any type of diverse experience or thoughts. I remember I was working on an analytics team and I hired everyone with the exact same analytical skill set who can crunch the numbers really good with Excel, kind of a replica of little mini Nina’s. But then what that didn’t translate, as we all had the same thought, how we built our presentations, how we delivered the presentations, it didn’t create anything new or thought provoking. And as I think through now, you know, later in my career, the highest individual contributors don’t always make the best managers or the best teams, right, they may be very good at a skill set. And that was hard for me to realize that when you hire when you hire a really strong individual contributor, it doesn’t necessarily translate that they would be the best person on the team. So now as I build teams, I think through when I hire a new candidate, what different experience experiences and perspectives can that person bring to the team that I do not have? And I look for that skill or experience to come bring that new perspective on the teams.

Melissa Aarskaug 06:23
So what roles can these different players bring? Like, what different? You know, what do they bring when they have different backgrounds?

Nina Johnson 06:32
Yeah, great question. So I think one is the experiences. So in my last role that I hired, you know, I was leading a marketing commercial team. And we hired someone with sales experience, because all of our go to market programs that we’ve developed, go into a sales organization. So by bringing someone in from the sales, they were able to provide us that perspective on you know, this would work out in the marketplace, or this may not work or customer will really appreciate if you did XYZ and that made our programs and our strategies that much more stronger, because I had that perspective of an outside experience. So I think that is a good example of how like diverse thought leadership changes how you move forward.

Melissa Aarskaug 07:16
Yeah, I know, Coca Cola has one of the biggest marketing budgets in the world. So hiring salespeople to help with that is a brilliant idea. You know, I think of sales and marketing, you know, same category, same, you know, ying and yang need them together to make things jive. When you’re interviewing people and trying to decide how to hire somebody that’s from a different company to come inside the organization. What do you look for? So is it a certain way? You ask your team, like walk me through how the interview process goes?

Nina Johnson 07:54
Yep. That’s a great question. So typically, within our hiring process, I let my team or a panel meet with the candidates first, because I typically do second or third rounds, I want to make sure and the reason why I do a panel interview first versus myself is, I want to make sure that the person we’re bringing on gets along with the team, first and foremost, because having the right team dynamic really makes or breaks a team, which is why I have them go through the panel, if they don’t pass through the panel with the team members I have selected, then there’s no reason for me to interview. That’s step one. And they typically will, you know, check from culture, skill set experiences, and honestly a try vets do a lot of that experiences. So by the time I interview them, I’m looking for what new perspectives experiences, I also take a gauge at really a lot of hypothetical questions. So when I interview candidates, it’s really funny. I don’t really go into details about their specific skill set, I’m assuming they know how to do the job at this level, they met with the team and HR. So I’ll go through those hypothetical questions. A good example is, you know, when I’m hiring for an analytical role, I’ll ask a question that says, how many quarters of the take to fill up a stadium, right? I don’t actually know the right answer. But it’s the thought process of walk me through how you would go about that answer. That gives me a lens and how they sound something analytically. When I’m looking for Well, that’s really a problem solving. I’ll ask them this question. You know, it got asked to me one time, which is why remember it is how do you explain the sun to a blind person? And it’s meant to see, you know, how many different ways are they going through the senses? Or how are they explaining a problem that’s hard to solve? Like, how are they using their problem solving skills? So I asked those questions to really understand really their deeper thought process and how they approach and my last favorite one that I always ask is, what’s been your favorite job and why? So kind of all throughout the career ask them that and depending on how they answer whether it’s, you know, I love that it was consistent and you want to do it Every day or I love that it was crazy and challenging, because things change. And I know what role I’m hiring for. So based on what their favorite jobs were which ones they hated, I know if they’re going to come in like in the job because that one, you can’t fool your way to pull your way out of an interview, like I know of like, this role is going to be challenging. Your projects and priorities are going to change every day, then I want to hear if their favorite job was similar to that, or no, they liked a job that was, Hey, I like these five things. When I accomplish them, I feel great. So for me, it’s about making sure that they fit well with the team, what new experiences that they bring onto the team to really create that perfect team dynamic.

Melissa Aarskaug 10:39
I think you hit on a really, really important point. In interviewing, it’s not just up the chain, I think it’s a DNA fit for the employer and the employee. They could run through a perfect interview with a perfect resume with HR and the hiring manager. And then they sideline interviewer downline interview, and those people have completely different understanding of their expertise. I’ve been part of some of those interviews, and I’ve heard from people that reported to me and I was blown away at what they were able to gather, during that interview that could have been very difficult for the company had we hired them. And so I think that’s a key point is, is getting the buy in from everybody that’s going to be working with that person that you mentioned. And then you know, no matter how much we vet an employee, and we go through everything HR related, I find sideline downline. Sometimes we hire the wrong people for roles. How do you I forget the analogy, but it’s like it takes one bad egg to ruin an entire team, like how do you work with, let’s say, one bad egg on a really great, productive team?

Nina Johnson 11:54
Yeah, and unfortunately, you know, that does happen, even to the best of us, it doesn’t matter what type of and you reprocess, I think what’s important to understand is, is this a bad egg? Like it’s a bad fit for the company? So it’s a bad employee? Or is it just a bad egg with a newer department? And I think, you know, I’ve experienced both. And I learned that, you know, I went to this one seminar, they talked about your boss, as a leader, or people leader, is arranging people on a bus, you may have a bad egg that doesn’t have the right skill set for your team. But man, they would be great. And another function is just a skill sets need to learn. So can we move them to the right seat on the bus within the company, that’s step one, I always want to make sure if it’s a good person, just not the right fit. Let me find them where you will thrive with your strengths. Then it goes into, you know, the extreme where you’re this is a toxic person, for the company, and how do we performance, manage them and exit them out of the organization. And what’s always surprising is, every time that has happened, it doesn’t matter the amount of people that have come and told me, or I’m so glad this person exited. If it’s three, four, or five, when that person leaves it, that number doubles the amount of other people that have come to me and said, Wow, I was afraid to say something or, you know what, I just kind of let it slide. And then that’s when you really understand how much the toxic employee has spread throughout the organization, versus just what you may hear during the process. But I think you as a leader, need to take that effort. Because when you have a bad egg within the team, it spreads and it brings morale down team productivity efficiency, and then everyone’s looking at you as the leader of why are you not doing something to correct this team dynamic. So I think it’s important for you to take that challenge. And I would say, you know, I remember one time, and this was the first time I had to actually let someone go was actually someone who was also, you know, a close friend as well. And I think it’s very hard when you have to separate the personal to professional relationship, especially when it’s just not the right fit for the person. But you have to think about the total team and the department, and how it’s impacting, you know, one bad employee for across the entire teams.

Melissa Aarskaug 14:14
So in those cases, I love it you, you kept the employee because as we know, hiring and firing isn’t a very expensive process, getting people ramped up to the job, when it’s a better and like you mentioned, it’s like putting people and a seat on the bus. It’s sometimes it’s better to move them to a different team or a different manager and help them shine in other areas. Now what happens if they move to another team? Let’s say they move to another team, and now you have to fill in that role again, do you go through the same process again, where you will let people reinterview or do you? Do you find that at times you’re hesitant if you’ve had a couple of bad eggs like walk me through a little bit It, like how you fit people into an existing team dynamic has been working together for a while.

Nina Johnson 15:08
Yes, when when the team is running really efficiently and someone leaves whether you know, they’re going to new, promote new promotional opportunity or different team, it’s always a little scary because everyone reflects how great everything is at the current state. And then you try to bring someone new. And I think through one, when there’s an opening on the team, the first thing I think about is, is there anyone on our team first that can needs that cross functional experience, right? Like maybe somebody was managing one channel trade, and they want to learn a different piece. So they’re managing when markets, I always like to give our existing team members an opportunity to grow, and potentially change positions within, you know, the current team. Once we kind of go through that process that, you know, we definitely open it up and see who’s interested in the role. And as I mentioned, I think about who can we bring in that we’re lacking from our current team? So who are we placed a new person with an old person, I don’t necessarily go for the exact same skill set, whether it’s the hard skills or the soft skills, but I think about now with this person gone, like what gap do we have that we want to fill with this open seat? And that’s what I look for. And I think it’s important as we’re looking through teams, I also asked my current team members, hey, do you know of anyone who would be good, it’s good to ask your existing team. They know how the team dynamic works, how we work together, and they’re going to be the best honestly, recruiter for your team. So they’ll go out there and be like, Yes, I know, the perfect person. That’s what they need. And they would fit really well with this team culture. So my team are often my best recruiters when I’m looking to fill a spot on the team.

Melissa Aarskaug 16:47
I think that’s great. The other thing that comes to mind is managing managing teams now is difficult, right? You have your have a lot of remote people, you have new people, you have different ages. How do you build a team culture, when you may have some people in a different country, you may have some people that work out of their home and office, like let’s say you have a bunch of different people in different states and countries and some are remote? How do you make it feel like a team? And what kind of things can a leader do to make people feel like they’re bought into that team and that vision and that strategy when they’re remote?

Nina Johnson 17:28
Yeah, I mean, that’s exactly the situation you’re going now as we switched into hybrid post COVID. I think one thing I always think about is consistency. Right? I think you find the right time that works across, you know, I’ve had teams on the East Coast, you know, Central West, I think having consistent meetings with your team where everyone can attend is one piece, right? They want to make sure that you will feel part of a team no matter what timezone if they’re home in the office, to why No, most of our teams can be remote or hybrid. When we do find a day in the office, we try to be consistent on do we want to make Tuesday, our office day. So we do have that connection in person, when we choose to be in the office, let’s go and meet so we can all take advantage of having an office day. And I think the last thing as I think about making sure that the team works is, you know, every time we have a team meeting, we always also talk about we just kind of do round the horn making sure everyone has an opportunity to speak. And I’m one of those where if we haven’t seen each other in a while just because of a meeting or scheduling something like let’s hop on camera and say hi. And I always start the meetings with How is everybody doing? You know, what are you guys up to versus going straight into the business. Because at the end of the day, the team, you spend so much time with these people that work for you that are on the team, that’s good to understand what’s going on and life outside of your working hours. So I think about how you make the connection, being consistent and showing up when you know we want the team suit. And then when the teams do come together, is let’s make the best of our time together as a team.

Melissa Aarskaug 19:02
Another fantastic point, I think you touched on something that’s really important, taking a genuine active interest and other people outside of their job and their job duties like how how are things going on with their families and, you know, better understanding people, as a leader helps you make better decisions as a leader, I think the more we understand, you know, I jokingly half jokingly say until we’re all replaced by robots, you know, and you know, being a leader is not just here’s our to do lists, here’s our tasks, we you know, you’re accountable for this, I’m accountable for that. You’re not doing this and I’m not doing that there’s a human factor involved and sometimes people have things going on in their life and it’s like you mentioned it’s up to us to not just focus on you know what everybody’s accountable for but genuinely understand that they have a sick kid or a sick parent and they needed Take some time. And I think the more as leaders that were taking a genuine interest in our people and helping them grow not only for the company, but for themselves, it’s, it’s better for everyone. And I think that’s the one thing and this fast pace world that we all live in, everything’s faster, quicker, you know, more efficient that sometimes, you know, I know, I have to myself, you know, make sure I’m not doing that, because it’s always like, we got to get to what, where we gotta get, but I think what I’ve seen is the leaders that are the best leaders understand their people, their strengths and weaknesses, and like you, you mentioned, they hire in where they’re lacking, right, so, you know, maybe you’re not an attention to detail person. So you need to hire a detail person, and maybe you’re a big picture, person and the attention to detail, people need to bring you back down to earth right here, executing your vision. So I love that you mentioned, you know, taking time to talk to people, right and understand outside of their job. And I know, I hear sometimes companies are doing, you know, sales summits and you know, like you mentioned getting into the office and doing you know, I’ve I’ve hosted once the Get Out of Jail, safe rooms, or whatever once and I thought it was really cool, because you saw different dynamics of people’s personalities, and the quieter people were fantastic in the, in the escape rooms. And I think you hit on a really good chord as being more genuine and empathetic to people’s lives. Yeah,

Nina Johnson 21:43
You’ve made a great point around the empathy, Melissa, it’s, I could probably tell you, all of my employees a significant other person’s name and their kids. Because if you understand employees motivation and a difference, right for I know, one of my employees was really into making sure they work life balance, it’s you know, she has told me numerous times, I have a life outside of work. And I respect that, well, you know, you have others that really want to make sure that the their home with their kids at a certain time. And I’m the same way I remember when I first started my last role. My very first intro call with my team, I remember I said, Hey, I do drop offs in the mornings, I do not have meetings before 8:30. I’ve done that in the past and my 30’s it’s, it doesn’t, right, right, it gets in the car. And I was very clear, I’m happy to jump on with you guys later or not. But this is when I started this is when I enter email, feel free to text me in between. And it was really interesting, because I had one other mom reach out to me after that call was like, wow, nobody has ever said that, like in any of our intro meetings that they’re like, Hey, I’m a mom and I do drop offs. But it was for me, it was really clear to establish my priorities. And I wouldn’t want my team to feel the same whatever is important to them, whether it’s, I need to lead by this because I have a commitment. Right. And I think that’s important to understand. And when you understand everyone’s motivation, they just want to make the time and work into the workplace that much stronger.

Melissa Aarskaug 23:07
Yeah, I agree. Well said, I’m going to pivot a little bit here. So we’ve talked a lot about like how to build teams What to do you know how to get the buy in being gender. Now let’s switch the scenario. Let’s say you have built a team and somebody in the team has broken trust with everyone on the team, or they’ve, you know, done something they shouldn’t have, or there’s, you know, questionable behavior that they know better than maybe like a trade secret to cope. That would be bad, right? Maybe they shared that trade secret. But how do you handle when trust is broken? Either peer to peer or manager to employee? Like, how do you handle that?

Nina Johnson 23:55
I think the first thing you need to do is actually want addressed the situation. And I know that sounds silly to say, but I’ve seen in some instances where someone may just want to ignore what’s happening. And I think that’s not the case, because then everybody else observes that there was trust broken, nothing was done by the leader. So I always like to address that. I’m a pretty straight forward and honest leader. So I’d like to talk to one, the employee first to understand what happened, because sometimes often it could be hearsay, you might have heard, I heard this from someone else. So I think for me, I always like to go direct to the source employee to figure out what happened in really a private setting. I am not wanting to call on anybody on any type of behavior in a public setting, I think there’s always an appropriate time where you can pull somebody in a private setting to address any type of performance behavior. So I’d like to understand what happened. And then if a trust really was broken by this employee, I think that employee needs to own the accountability for that action and really make sure that they explain that situation to whoever First trust that they broken, I think if you can identify and I don’t want, say rectify me leave, but you know that the person is genuine and has honestly made a mistake and can address it that’s half the problem. That’s half the battle, how the how that person continues and how the other team members react. I can’t control how other team members react, but at least I can maybe put ourselves in the situation and make the right efforts to rebuild that trust. But it’s definitely you know, two ways to do about it. I don’t think it’s only up to the person, I think the leader has to help facilitate that, to build that trust back to the team. And then you have to trust the person and a team and how they want to move forward.

Melissa Aarskaug 25:40
Oh, that was good. I think the one thing I heard is no silos hitting the problem head on, no running around, no sleep, sweeping it under the rug, you hit the employee directly, you get their side, you get the other side and you work head on with it. I love that. I love that. That says a lot about you, as a leader that you can hit things and you give people the benefit of the doubt, right? I think they say there’s two sides, there’s two sides to every story. And there’s somewhere in the middle right on each side of the story. But I think I love that you said that you work through it, and you hit it head on. Because a lot of times I’ve heard people just sweep it under the rug and they forget it happened and you know, everybody’s sides not heard maybe one sides heard or it’s over dramatized in one area and not hit head on and the other area. So I think anybody that can work for you, Nina is lucky to have you as a boss, because you can hit things head on. And I want to just in closing, I want to, from your perspective is there maybe top three top things that anybody who’s managing people can do today to lead better teams, or maybe the top three thoughts that you can share with our listeners that they can put into practice today?

Nina Johnson 27:03
That is going to be tough. Let me think about, sorry, the top three, I think one, one rule I always follow is treat others how they want to be treated. And I learned this that they call this the platinum rule. I think in the past it was always treat others how you want to be treated. And it’s that that treat others how they want to be treated, whether they’re an extra introverts. So think about customizing your leadership proach to the individual, though, treat everybody the exact same way. Second, leading teams takes time, I don’t think you should expect anyone yourself or your teams to go into that perfect team dynamic. And they want it takes work of the individual, the team member as well as yourself as a leader, when a team is not operating efficiency, you’re definitely part of the blame myself, you cannot only put it on the team. The last thing that I’ll say is trust. Trust yourself. I think in the process, I remember, you know, my very first team that I managed, I think anyone who knows this or has worked for me in the past, I was not a great leader, my first two teams and I apologize for that I was you know, probably very young, you know, hiring people just like me, I was very bad in that experience. But I think you have to trust yourself and grow in the process. Nobody is perfect the first time around, and you only get better as time goes on. I strongly believe if you put in the effort as a leader, and take time to know your team, know yourself and know how you operate, you should be able to improve yourself just like with any other thing that you work hard on practice, you got to trust in yourself and the process.

Melissa Aarskaug 28:42
Oh, that was good. Well said, um, you know, it’s one of my mentors used to tell me Melissa, if you want to be a good leader, leaders or readers, make sure you’re reading and bettering yourself because the better you are, the better you can be for your team. And so that’s always resonated with me is like Leaders are readers. And so I’m going to take your other top three myself. Nina, thank you so much for being here today on the Executive Connect Podcast. Tell us how we can connect with you and keep in touch with you. Is it online? Is it social media? What’s the best way?

Nina Johnson 29:17
Yeah, thank you one for having me. This was an awesome experience talking about leading teams. For everyone. I am on LinkedIn, Nina Johnson, you can find me. Let’s connect. I’m always happy to make new networks and opportunities to engage.

Melissa Aarskaug 29:32
Thank you so much for being here today. And that’s the Executive Connect Podcast.

Narrator 29:39
You’ve been listening to the Executive Connect Podcast. If you have questions or ideas on how to bring leadership to the next level, email us at executiveconnectpodcast@gmail.com And don’t forget to subscribe so you can catch every new episode. Until next time.

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Bryan Hancock Headshot — Founder of Integrity Development

Bryan Hancock

Founder of Integrity Development

Integrity Development

Executive Biography

Bryan Hancock has been managing real estate investments—and overseeing development and construction projects—for nearly two decades. He has deep roots in Austin, Texas, and comprehensive knowledge of the opportunities and challenges in this fast-growing market.

Through his development and syndication companies, which he built from the ground up, Bryan has developed 50+ urban infill projects and managed $25M in real estate sales with approximately 35% return on investment at the project level. He also co-founded two private equity funds.

Bryan brings in-depth industry awareness, sharp business acumen, and extensive in-the-trenches experience to his work as co-founder and principal of Integrity Development. He partners with a team of professionals and industry experts (many have been involved in Austin real estate for 40+ years) to identify value-added and opportunistic investments that protect capital and reduce risk for lenders—while delivering outsized returns for investors.

Earlier, Bryan founded and directed Inner 10 Development, a residential development firm focused on Austin’s top zip codes and surrounding communities, and H2i, LLC, a real estate syndication company. He steered these organizations for 17+ years, overseeing the acquisition, buildout, and sale of single-family and multifamily properties, including a 350-unit urban infill joint-venture project.

Bryan was successful in delivering strong returns while minimizing risk for bankers and investors by taking a targeted, data-driven approach to opportunity analysis, due diligence, and strategic decision-making. He zeroed in on potential risks and developed proactive mitigation strategies to protect and grow investments.

Concurrent with his work at Inner 10 Development and H2i, Bryan established Gentry Lending Group, a private-equity debt fund. He also served on the board of Bullseye Capital Real Property Opportunity Fund. These experiences provided Bryan with a grasp of both investor and banker viewpoints, including an understanding of risk and liability on the lending side. This aspect of his background continues to shape his real estate decisions to this day.

There is another unique aspect to Bryan’s career—a corporate history that differentiates him from other investors and developers in this field. Bryan has built organizations, controlled multimillion-dollar projects, and supported billion-dollar programs for some of the world’s largest companies: Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Dell, CACI, and Charles Schwab. He managed teams and vendors in the US, China, France, and India, and often balanced up to 10 projects at a time. He was trusted with a Top Secret Security Clearance from the United States government.

A business-savvy leader and lifelong learner, Bryan holds an MBA in Finance and Entrepreneurship from Texas Christian University and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

Bryan founded the Wealth Investment Network, co-founded RealStarter (a crowdfunding platform for real estate investors), and was a member of the Urban Land Institute and Central Texas Angel Network. He has been a guest speaker at 20+ national events, including conferences and meetups through the Information Management Network (IMN), SXSW, Rice University, Bay Area Real Estate Summit, Soho Loft Conference, Texas Entrepreneur Network, and many others.

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Melissa Aarskaug Headshot — Founder of Executive Connect

Melissa Aarskaug

Founder of Executive Connect

Senior Executive, Board Member & Advisor

Vice President of Business Development
Bulletproof, a GLI company

Executive Biography

Melissa Aarskaug is a global executive and business leader at the forefront of the technology/cybersecurity industry. She shapes strategy, leads teams, and partners with Fortune 500 companies and other enterprise clients to protect their organizations from risk and noncompliance—while improving operations and accelerating growth.

For 15+ years, Melissa has taken the reins to propel organizations to the next level of performance. By combining business acumen and revenue optimization with the sharp mind of an engineer, she uncovers and seizes opportunities for profitable growth in the US and around the world.

Melissa has established a distinguished career with Gaming Laboratories International (GLI), where she is a key member of the senior executive team. Throughout her tenure, she has assembled teams, developed new markets, and influenced P&L impact, ultimately positioning GLI as the #1 provider of testing, certification, and cybersecurity services to the global gaming and lottery space.

After achieving this feat—a big win for GLI and game-changer for clients worldwide—Melissa steered both GLI and Bulletproof (acquired by GLI in 2016) into untapped verticals: finance, government, healthcare, higher education, hospitality, and retail. An enthusiastic, knowledgeable growth driver who cultivates partnerships and rallies teams, she led GLI/Bulletproof to dominate these markets as well.

Before joining GLI, Melissa shaped and executed strategy as Vice President of Business Operations for LV Investments, where she built and optimized a portfolio of commercial and industrial properties. Earlier, in a very different role as Project Engineering Manager for Fisher Industries, she directed and mobilized a team of 550 employees and contractors to develop the world’s largest concrete bridge. Previously, she headed a major engineering project for Pacific Mechanical Corporation.

A curious, lifelong learner, Melissa holds dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering with minors including Business and Mathematics. She is a Karrass Master Negotiator and C4 Executive Coach who actively pursues ongoing education and inspiration as a member of Chief, Austin Technology Council, Austin Women in Technology, and Toastmasters International. In addition to her own personal and professional development, Melissa is committed to helping other people thrive both inside and outside of the workplace. She actively mentors and empowers team members at GLI/Bulletproof, and is an executive leader and coach for Global Gaming Women. She founded Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) Austin and is a current or past board member of many organizations, including Emerging Leaders in Gaming, Ballet Austin, Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, the Society of Women Engineers, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. She has been a Junior League volunteer in Austin, Las Vegas, and Reno for 15+ years.

Throughout her career, Melissa has inspired individuals, teams, and entire organizations to think differently about innovation, cybersecurity, leadership, and business development. She was honored as one of the “Emerging Leaders in Gaming: 40 Under 40” and she continues to share her ideas and expertise through publications, podcasts, webinars, and presentations.

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This is the Executive Connect

A show for the new generation of leaders. Join us as we discover unconventional leadership strategies not traditionally associated with executive roles. Our guests include upper-level C-Suite executives charting new ways to grow their organizations, successful entrepreneurs changing the way the world does business, and experts and thought leaders from fields outside of Corporate America that can bring new insights into leadership, prosperity, and personal growth – all while connecting on a human level. No one has all the answers – but by building a community of open-minded and engaged leaders we hope to give you the tools you need to help you find your own path to success.