Grit is defined as courage, resolve, or the strength of our character. We develop grit through the difficult times in our lives. The times we got knocked down, passed over or left behind. Host Fran Racioppi visited Travis Hollman, President & CEO of Hollman Lockers; the world’s largest manufacturer of locker rooms, including those of the Dallas Cowboys, Equinox, The New York Times, J.P. Morgan and Alabama Football.
Hollman is a family business that Travis has grown 8x since he took it over in 2011. Growing up, Travis suffered from severe dyslexia and a rare bone disease that bound him to a wheelchair.. He was bullied, rejected and called the dumbest kid his teachers ever taught. Today, he is one of the most successful and influential CEOs in business.
In an on-location episode inside the Hollman manufacturing plant, Travis and Fran discuss locker rooms, scaling businesses, entrepreneurship, the importance of family, his dedication to giving back, and how Grit has been the key to overcoming adversity and finding success.
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About Travis Hollman
Travis Hollman has been a serial “funpreneur,” businessman, innovator, and philanthropist for more than 20 years. Currently, Travis serves as President and CEO of Hollman, Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of locker solutions. Hollman’s leading-edge products can be found in the locker rooms of the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, the Dallas Mavericks, The New York Times, and the J.P. Morgan Chase Park Avenue offices.
Travis’ startup ventures include the award-winning Marshmallow Fun Company, marshmallow guns for all ages, and Vacation in a Bottle (VIB), the first relaxation drink in the United States, as well as the Riviera Spa, Las Colinas Business Center, Altempo Glass, and Keyless Security Co.
In addition, Travis has had a successful track record in Hollywood as co-executive producer of MTV’s popular show, Bully Beatdown, a Mark Burnett Production. He also produced the movie Rain, starring legendary actress Faye Dunaway. Travis’s products and projects earned recognition on a national level with Good Morning America, The Today Show, ABC News, USA Today, and Fortune magazine. His success and experience extend into traditional retail environments and channels, with partnerships at Amazon, Walmart, Target, Toys “R” Us, 7-Eleven, and more. Travis takes fun seriously, bringing big ideas and innovation to market.
Following his entrepreneurial ventures, Travis took the helm of the family business. Founded in 1976 by Travis’ father Joe Hollman, Hollman, Inc. creates innovative solutions that can be found in notable organizations in the athletic, fitness, and corporate workspace arena
In his time as president and CEO, Travis has grown the company to eight times its original size and introduced several new product lines, earning the coveted Locker Firm of the Year twice and has been recognized as a Most Admired CEO by The Dallas Business Journal. He attributes his success to the team he has surrounded himself with, as well as a continual drive to improve.
Throughout the years, Travis has been heavily involved with local charities, sitting on the Board of Directors for The Family Place, and actively involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters for over ten years being honored as the Big Brothers Big Sisters Persons of the Year Award in 2017. Since then, Travis and his wife Stephanie have established The Hollman Family Foundation through which the Hollman HELPs (Higher Education + Learning Program) is run. Since 2018, Hollman HELPS has grown to encompass a community college compensation program for Hollman employees as well as their spouses and dependents in addition to a locker renovation program for high schools in need. Travis has always put purpose over profit, showing the world that you can have fun in business and be a source of the greater good for the local community.
Hollman Lockers – CEO Travis Hollman
Grit is defined as courage, resolve or the strength of our character. We develop grit through the difficult times in our lives, the times we got knocked down, passed over and left behind. It’s the events in our lives that force us to demonstrate perseverance, adaptability, resilience and the courage to act even when it was hard, it hurt physically or emotionally or maybe even when others were telling us it couldn’t be done. Grit also defines some of the greatest business leaders.
For this episode, I went down to Dallas, Texas and visited Travis Hollman, President and CEO of Hollman Lockers, the world’s largest manufacturer of locker rooms. Their leading-edge products can be found in the locker rooms of the Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Mavericks, Equinox, New York Times, JPMorgan and Alabama Football, among many others. Hollman is also a family business that Travis has grown eight times since he took over in 2011.
He has put people and the culture of doing the right thing above everything else. His investment in process and technology combined with his relentless dedication to his customers has set Hollman apart from the competition, but it wasn’t always easy. Growing up, Travis suffered from severe dyslexia and rare bone disease that bound him to a wheelchair and brace. He was bullied, rejected and even called the dumbest kid his teachers had ever taught.
Now, he’s one of the most successful and influential CEOs in business, having been named Locker Firm of the Year twice and recognized as a Most Admired CEO by the Dallas Business Journal. In an on-location episode in the Hollman Manufacturing Plant, Travis and I discussed locker rooms, scaling businesses, entrepreneurship, the importance of family and balance, his dedication to giving back and how grit has been the key to overcoming adversity and finding success.
Travis, welcome to the show.
We are on location at the Hollman headquarters in Dallas. I have to thank you, your staff and Meghan for helping me to set up. This is the first time where we have set up the deployable kit. I’ve been capturing it on Instagram as we ordered it and built it. We got the box that we could put on the plane and got it all set up. We’re going to test it out. When we did Episode 38 with Harris Glaser in Miami with Midnight Express, we went to a recording studio called Bay Eight. Bay Eight helped me get all this equipment. I’m going to caveat this whole episode with, “If it all fails, it’s all their fault and Matt’s fault at Bay Eight. If it all works, I’m an amazing sound engineer.”
I want to talk about the Hollman company. It’s one of the world’s leaders in locker manufacturing, locker room design, product and rooms. The display of all the different types of locker room designs that you’ve done is front and center in the focal point for so many of your customers and the organizations like the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, Google, PayPal and Equinox, to name a few. I was reading America’s Team. It’s not my team but the Dallas Cowboys unless you’re doing the Patriots, the Red Sox, the Celtics or the Bruins. Those are the only ones that I can jump in on.
It’s also a family business. It’s one that you scaled and grew exponentially after you took it over. When I work with companies, I think about people, processes and technology. Those are so critical in scaling a business. I want to frame the conversation about Hollman those three terms. Everything starts with a vision and mission. It’s something that evolves in companies over time. When you took the company over, you wanted to build something your kids would be proud of, a company that does the right thing. When you took it over in 2011, what was it like? Where has it gone since?
People who have Dyslexia or ADHD, like Elon Musk and Warren Buffett, are the people changing the world. Click To Tweet
My dad was like you. He was a platoon leader in Vietnam and ran things a little bit differently. He also went over to Asia a lot and got divorced. The company is doing well. I was here early on in the company from ’95 to 2001. In 2001, he came back from Asia with a child and a new bride. At that point, I was pushed out. The company was doing fairly decent revenue numbers. I’ve been running it for years, then he took it from there and moved it up. He got divorced and left. By the time I ended up back here at the company, he had not been around for years. There was no one in charge.
Whoever put their hand in the air that day was in charge, which is a unique way to look at things. The company had about 35 employees and doing about $6.8 million a year and losing money. It was strange like the Wild West. I walked in my first day and I was like, “Who is doing this?” Everybody was pointing fingers at everybody else. There was no accountability. It was chaos. It was interesting to come into a company like that. The nice thing about this company, even back then in that chaos, is that the bones were good. The accounting was solid. The equipment was in decent shape. Some people knew how to run the equipment. There were some repeat businesses.
At that point, 50% of the company was LA Fitness because that was the big account they were doing at the time. I got in and we started changing the culture. On day one, we got in and looked around. I remember talking to this girl in the first week. I said, “Here’s your new sales number.” It was $200,000, which is a joke. She’s like, “There’s no way anybody could ever sell that much. It couldn’t happen. It’s impossible.” That was her last day working there. We went through everybody. At the end of it, we got rid of about 75% of the people within the first three months.
It was, “Get on board or go.” I was fortunate. The girl that worked with me in the ’90s here, I talked her into coming back. She came back two weeks after I started and had a bunch of contacts in the business. I still had contacts. We had known what to do with the business and had a good run in the ’90s. We started saying, “We’re going to do the same thing we were doing in the ’90s.” It was funny. We asked about technology. There is no technology. There was nothing. It was just two people that had some contacts to some buyers. We started putting those contacts together and trying to build a team, which has been great and difficult at the same time.
When you look to build the team in a lot of our conversations, we have tied in the nine characteristics of performance that are used by Special Operations Forces, which are drive, resiliency, adaptability, humility, integrity, curiosity, team ability, effective intelligence and emotional strength. Going into the New Year, starting with our Episode 41, we have started to branch out and talk more about attributes.
It’s how are the attributes and your foundational core that then the combination of those create your character over time based on the situations that you’re in. As you’ve built the team and culture, you have a core set of values that you’ve built the company on. Can you talk a little bit about what you are looking for in the team members and the values you’ve put in place with a primary one of those for you doing the right thing?
Business books are always funny to me because they always have everybody, “I went out and did this. I did everything correctly and became a multi-millionaire.” Business doesn’t run that way. When you hire people, it doesn’t run that way. We have made a ton of mistakes. We used to hire engineers that we like to drink beer with. They didn’t have any detail. They were not good engineers, but they were friendly people. We ended up going with a company called Culture Index, in which there’s Myers-Briggs and all sorts of other ones. That opened our eyes a little bit into saying, “People are wired differently.” It’s hard for an entrepreneurial CEO. My thought process is everybody wants to be worth $100 million someday. That’s not true and you got to understand that it’s not true.
We’ve got about 300 employees and 200 of them don’t even want to move to a higher-level job. Machine operators want to operate their machines and go home. They want to make sure their kids are good and they can raise their families. If the building catches on fire, they will drink their Budweiser beer and watch their TV. It sounds bad, but that’s the life they choose. That’s what they want. A lot of times, we have done this. We have tried to make somebody something that they’re not. You’ve got to understand what the person that you’re hiring wants and that person has to fit that position. You could look for certain things, but you got to figure it out.
If they’re in sales, in our Culture Index, do they have a high drive? If they don’t, they can be the most friendly people. They will talk to somebody all day long and maybe sell something, but they’re never going to ask for the order. They got to be wired a certain way. We’re all wired differently and for exactly what we want to do. I’ve got an engineer here that I don’t think has talked to me in years. He comes and puts his headphones on every day. He’s a great guy. He’s high detail, anti-social and single task-oriented. You cannot disturb him. There’s a sign. His supervisor gives him something in the morning. If he wants him to work on something, he sends him an email.
When he checks his email, he will work on that. There’s never a mistake and he’s so happy. He doesn’t talk to me, but his supervisor does his interviews. He’s one of our happiest employees here. You wouldn’t know because he doesn’t talk to anybody. He doesn’t say a word, but he loves what he does because we leave him alone and let him be in his own space. He’s in the back corner with exactly what he wants in life. You and I would think that’s horrible. Do you know what he thinks about what I do going out and talking to people, energizing people, and motivating people? He would rather die than do that. That’s the worst thing in his brain.
There’s pressure in society to become this Elon Musk of the world. Do you want to become the Elon Musk? Here’s an interesting story. Brad Pitt stayed down the road from our house in this gated community years ago. This was when he was with Angelina and all the kids. This is a gated community. In four seasons, they had guards all around the house all day, 24/7. The guard at the gate told me they came in at 2:00 AM. They can only travel in the middle of the night because they’re so famous. They had chefs come in because they couldn’t leave. Brad was out there smoking, drinking a beer and waving at people to have some interaction with the world because he couldn’t.
Everybody says, “I want to be Brad Pitt.” Do you want to be Brad Pitt? Brad Pitt is screwed. He can’t go anywhere. He can’t go to Starbucks or a football game unless he’s in a suite surrounded by security. He can’t walk through an airport. He can’t even play soccer with his kids outside of the public park. It’s the same way with being an entrepreneur or business owner. Everybody wants to be this great thing. There are rewards to it, but there are also a lot of downsides that people don’t see. I don’t sleep every night. I have this ring I wear that tells you when you sleep. I wear it almost every night. I rarely can get past two hours without waking up.
I got 300 people counting on me to perform every day and I got to perform and run this company. How I look at it is they’re my responsibility. When COVID came, we didn’t let one person go. Do the right thing, but we had to make sure that these people felt safe. I came out at the beginning of COVID before any of this money came out and said, “We’re not going to fire anybody.” Even Mark Cuban jumped on board with that. I sent a tweet out and got a lot of press on it, but it wasn’t about the press because I wanted them to know I was willing to put it out there, writing that, “We’re not giving up on you. This COVID thing has hit. We don’t know where it’s going to go, but we’re going to stand behind you because Hollman has the financial resources to do that, at least for a good bit of time.”
We were pretty good on cash and everything else. Every day, I think about these people and everybody that works here. They have to go home and pay their bills and the mortgage. Even with COVID, which was not a great year, we still paid full bonuses to everybody in the plant because there was no overtime. I paid 20% more bonus to everybody in the plant than their normal bonus because there was no overtime. I brought them gift cards and all sorts of stuff because they were struggling and they weren’t the ones that quit their jobs to take the unemployment benefits. They’re the ones that showed up at work every day and worked for me.
They would have made more money doing the other way. They were doing the right thing, keeping this company open and working so everybody around them could have a job and work. That was the culture we were able to create. Even with the pandemic, we were able to keep everybody together and safe. They knew because we were going to keep them paid that they had a job and all these things came out. Almost half of my employees could have made more money going on a welfare system at the time or whatever it was, but they didn’t because they were loyal to the company and knew that it wasn’t going to last forever, but we would be here always taking care of them.
That investment in the people works both ways. You invest in them and they invest in the company. For a company like Hollman, we talked about the quality of the product and the fact that it becomes almost an iconic feature of the locations in these locker rooms in these stadiums and organizations. In Special Operations, we always say 1 of our 5 Special Operations truths, which is quality is more important than quantity. As you’ve scaled the business and built it out, how have you managed to keep quality high as you’ve had to increase quantity?
That’s pretty easy in our business. We’ve got an R&D department. We are the largest locker company in the world at this point. Most of what we make is the same. We’ve got a lot of money for equipment. Nobody in the state has better woodworking equipment than we do. It’s all the technology that goes into the equipment. We always upgrade to the best solution for materials. During COVID, we decided to revamp everything else and went to an anti-microbial. Everything is anti-microbial.
We went to all this new material because we had time to think. We’re always upgrading. In manufacturing, our leverage of buying things allows us to give them the best. When I buy my normal locker that’s 36 inches, it has three hinges with a soft-close technology on so the door closes softly. All my competitors have two hinges with no soft close.When you hire the right people, you come up with the right culture. Click To Tweet
It’s a big difference. It’s 3 hinges or 2 hinges and soft-close or no soft-close. I’m buying such a higher volume. I am cheaper than what they’re paying for those two soft-close hinges. We do that with everything. We’re buying truckloads. When we didn’t have the volume, we decided to think long-term. When we think long-term about it, we say, “We’re going to get the volume. We will get these prices down and make this work.”
We always figured out how to make a better locker. It sounds interesting, but nothing is interesting about lockers. There’s more technology in there than you think. We’re always pushing the boundary on what’s better. If anybody comes to me with a better product, we look at it. Even if it’s more expensive, we will take it, not charge our customer for it, work to get the volume to a spot where we can bring the cost back to where they were and move forward.
We have been successful at doing that, so it’s a high-quality product. I can sell it cheaper than any of my competitors in the market because of our volume and the way we do business. The other thing is to keep away from the bank. We have no bank debt, rent or anything else, which gives us a huge advantage. All my other competitors are leasing buildings or equipment. We don’t have any of that. We have no overhead with that. My only overhead here is property taxes and energy.
This place is massive. It’s 350,000 square feet. There are three different warehouses in here and state-of-the-art technologies. We spoke a little bit about it. It was that third component in there. I was in my research and reading about it. The oldest piece of equipment in here is a few years old.
We have pretty new equipment. Woodward Equipment only lasts for about ten years. One of my compadres wanted to buy them. Their newest piece was from 2007. I’m like, “We can’t even deal with that here. We don’t have anything that old.”
I want to ask you about growing up. With your background growing up and younger years, you spoke a little bit about it regarding your father. Your parents were divorced. Your father was relatively absent. This resonates with me. I’ve heard your story a couple of times. I was not there in the early days for my daughter. In the first 4 or 5 years of her life, the military had me and I was all over the world. In the second 5 or 6 years of her life, until she was 10, I was running away a lot from being a father and trying to run towards what I didn’t know.
I wasn’t there. Subsequently, we have come back together and it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. I want to talk about your kids and your family because even though we haven’t spent much time together in the conversations we have had, it has been so inspiring to me. I think about you a lot when I think about, “How do I interact with my family and kids? How do I do better in that world?” Can you talk about your childhood, what you went through both with your parents and the various disabilities that you had?
Here’s what’s interesting about people that talk about how they grew up and everything else. I don’t talk about it much. I talked about it with you and at one podcast. Many people have stories and all their stories growing up are either good or bad. If you look at them as a positive, it helps out. I grew up in Oregon. My parents got divorced when I was four. My dad was the funniest guy ever. When we saw him, there was a big of chocolate-covered and peanut M&M’s. He would hide them and that was what we ate for two days every time we went over there. I can’t ever remember him taking us out to lunch, breakfast or anything besides those M&M’s. We never ate at his house. He was fun.
My mom was a hard-working woman. When I was little, I was diagnosed with Legg-Perthes disease. Back then, there was no cure, so I was in a wheelchair a little bit before 1st grade and through 3rd grade. When I first got diagnosed, my mom and dad were there. They said that I would probably never walk again. My mom broke down crying. The funny story there is I was complaining that my leg hurt, which I complained about a lot. She was a fairly disciplinary woman. She grabbed a wooden paddle and I said, “Mom, my leg hurts.” We were in the back of this Pinto. I’ll never forget it. She said, “If I’m going to take you to the doctor and nothing is wrong with you, you’re going to get paddled.”
She’s a single mom. I got to admit. I got paddled. I don’t think my sister ever did, but I deserved it all the time. She wasn’t unfair with her punishment. Things are different now, but she’s a great woman. I love my mom. They told her I couldn’t walk again. My mom breaks down in tears and I’m like, “Thank God I’m not getting paddled. This a great day for me.” Back then, it was interesting. There’s all this stuff. People don’t understand how the world has changed. I hear all this racist hate out there and that whole hate. We have come a long way. Back then, I was in a wheelchair. No one even says the word anymore. I was called retarded. I was a retarded boy.
That’s what people would call me. They would look at the retard. That’s what it was. The teachers wouldn’t say anything. Everybody was scared to touch you. They wouldn’t even sit next to you. They thought that they would get what you had if they physically touched you. I remember growing up. I’ve told this story before. I didn’t go to any birthday parties and never got invited to anything. For some reason, it affected me differently than most. I got a tough exterior a little bit, but I’m not sad about it. I don’t think it was a bad thing. Bullying is bad. I get it, but it made you tough. I’ve talked about grit a little bit. It makes you who you are.
I could sit there, scream and moan that I had a bad childhood because of stuff like that. I also had dyslexia real bad. It was so bad that I couldn’t read. I went to a private school in third grade. At the end of the year, I was sitting there with my mom and dad. My dad came for that. There was the principal and the teacher. The teacher was like, “He’s the dumbest kid I’ve ever taught. He can’t go on.” The principal was like, “We can’t even let him come back to the school next year. He needs to do third grade again, but you cannot come back. You need to go to a public school. The private schools are too advanced for you.” That was another shock and struggle. I struggled through that.
Dyslexic people struggle quite a bit. My son has it and he’s going to a great school because they deal with dyslexic people. Now, it has all changed. I dealt with that and reading problems. Finally, what was interesting was I met this guy named Tonner in high school. I went to Jesuit High School. The only reason I got in there was there wasn’t a waiting list at the time. My dad was the first graduating class from Jesuit High School. He was a donor to them, so they let me in. I was in sophomore year. I had this football coach and he was teaching religion. He said, “Travis, read this thing.” This was the first day of class in the fall. I said, “Coach, I’m dyslexic. I don’t read out loud.”
He said, “That’s fine.” After class, he pulled me up and said, “Never pull that crap in my class again.” This was religion class. He wasn’t a priest, but that’s the job he had. He goes, “I’m making you read out loud in every single class the rest of the year. Get over it. You’re a sophomore in high school. Get this problem out of your head.” I went home and I was so scared to go back to his class the next day. Sure enough, he says, “Travis, read this.” He was a fairly aggressive football coach. I played football and I’m reading it. He made me read the whole year. I couldn’t think of anybody. That’s the best teacher I’ve ever had because of that. After that, he made me think, “Why is this going to be a disability?”
I gave a commencement speech in 2022 to my kids’ high school. He is not in high school yet. Bill Gates is dyslexic and has ADD. Elon Musk, the richest man in the history of the world, has Asperger’s, dyslexia and ADD. Warren Buffett is dyslexic. Richard Branson is dyslexic. I told the kids at this commencement speech, “For all the youth out there that are dyslexic, has ADHD or whatever, those are the people that are changing the world. They think differently than everybody else. Use it to your advantage. Don’t use it as a crutch. You’ve got to grab these things.” Me being bullied when I was in my wheelchair, nothing scares me. If you pick on me, I laugh.
My wife is like, “You can go through anything.” I’m like, “It doesn’t bother me. I’ve been through worse.” There’s the military. You get that every once in a while. Someone will do something. You would be like, “Your perspective says nothing.” Everybody is so worried about everything. The world is getting along pretty well. We hear all these things on the TV, but we have the most diverse culture I’ve ever seen. You’ve been through my office. A lot of people are out. We’ve got COVID running wild as everybody else does. We’ve got the most diverse office I’ve ever seen. I was asked to be on this panel with Bank of America, the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s and everything else.
They said they’re going to talk about how to hire diversity. I said, “I’m not doing this. I’m not playing that game. We don’t have rules for that here.” We hire the best people. If you’re Black, White, Yellow, Green, Purple, whatever your sexuality is, male, female, old or young, it doesn’t matter. If you’re the best person, that’s who we hire. When you do that, you come up with the right culture and the right people. If you’re out there like, “We got to hire more of this color or that,” then you’re limiting what you can do and setting a dangerous precedent. We have done it with the best people and it’s a diverse culture. You haven’t seen it all because a lot of people are out, but it’s diverse here.
You mentioned grit. I wanted to circle back on that because courage, perseverance, adaptability and resilience define grit. It’s those four attributes. Rich Diviney, who’s a former Navy SEAL, wrote a book called The Attributes. He says, “Optimal performers need grit. Grit is not a singular trait. It’s about carrying on and pushing through sometimes only in tiny increments no matter how difficult or miserable the challenge.” I bring it up here because what you define about the culture of the company, your upbringing and how that was instilled in you permeates throughout the organization.Outperform your competition daily. Click To Tweet
The organization and the culture here seem to latch onto that. As a CEO, when you look across the company, take something like COVID, see how it affects you, take your upbringing and start to think about something like risk. How do you then classify and analyze risk in an organization that is based on grit? I’ve added another layer here. I think like this in a lot of ways because with my background in the Special Operations Forces or Green Beret, you’re a master of chaos.
There’s always the opportunity. You spoke about the opportunity. That’s why I’m going into this. When you look at something that most would perceive as risk, limiting belief or something they can’t do, you grew up in an environment that teaches you to push through and do more, you can figure it out and have the courage to act. Everything becomes an opportunity. When you sit at the top of the organization and have an organization that thinks like that, how do you weigh, manage and balance the risk?
The biggest part of the business is honestly managing risk. They find a product. They’re going to go out and develop this product. What is the risk with bringing the product to market? There’s financial risk and everything else. At a business, you need to look at calculating what your downside risk is. Fortunately for us, we’re developing new products and everything else. If we have a deal, we know what the upside is and we will put limits on what the risk is. I’m developing a new product. I figure I’ll drop about $150,000 into it. It’s a game-changer. The upside reward is $1 billion, but I’m not going to go much more than $150,000 because if I can’t get it to prove out for that much risk, then it’s going to be too much.
We’re going to get to a spot where I’m throwing money away. A lot of people throw a lot of money away at things that don’t make sense. I looked at a business deal this guy gave me. He’s like, “If you put $3 million in, you get 40% of the company. We’re going to put $300,000 in and sell the company.” It was a company that does storage, “We can sell this in five years for about $5 million.” I said to him, “I get 40% equity, so I only get 40% of the $5 million. Let me get my money back. Where are you assessing everything? How do you look at this? That’s not even a risk anybody’s willing to take.”
He goes, “No one has ever asked me that question before.” I said, “They’re in the numbers.” He goes, “People have been putting $100,000.” I said, “No one was looking at the numbers. If you sell it for that much money, how do I get my $3 million? If you only sell for $3.2 million, where does my money come back?” He’s like, “No one has ever asked me these questions.” I’m like, “With what you gave me on paper, I can’t ever make money.” He goes, “I’ll get back to you.” I haven’t heard from him yet. That’s the way risk goes in business for everybody. People jump into stuff and don’t look at the numbers and what it’s going to take to get it. Companies run in a layered fashion.
I’ll decide on this one new product we’re doing. We got to put on a website, market it and buy new machinery to produce it. If I can get this prototype done and we think it’s successful, my next thing is going to be about an $8 million to $10 million investment. That’s a big risk. The first risk is $150,000, but that $150,000 has to prove to be a deal where I can leverage the next risk profile. We have figured it’s about $8 million to $10 million. We haven’t done all the calculations on it because it’s too early. You have to get through the first risk first. You’ve got to be able to get a moving prototype and something that people believe in.
I get so many people that come to me and go, “I got the best invention ever.” “What is it?” “You got to sign this NDA.” I go, “How long have you been showing people this invention?” They’re like, “It’s nine years now.” I’m like, “Get out of here.” He goes, “Why? Is it because you don’t want to sign the NDA?” I go, “If you want people to sign an NDA, usually you don’t have something valuable.” If you have something that good, walk up to them, trust them, show them and say, “How do we get this to market?” If they’re that excited about it, make them a partner with you and help them take it to the market. You’re showing it to them for a reason.
If you want to show it, show it off. What’s this whole NDA thing? Why are you holding onto it for nine years? You can’t get it to market because you’re too worried about the risk of taking the step to show people. We always show people. We’ve got cameras over here. We will let our competitors walk through the place. I don’t care because we’re going to outperform you daily no matter what. You can come to look at my technology. We publish our customer list out there pretty much on our website, as most people do. Try to take them from me. You’re not going to. We’re going to outwork you every single day.
What’s your advice to young entrepreneurs? Maybe I’m asking you this question for myself more than anybody else, but it’s for entrepreneurs who have 100 different ideas. You’ve been involved throughout your career in a lot of different things, whether it was acting in the movie industry but also founding a series of businesses. Some have been wildly successful and others have failed. When you advise, coach and mentor young entrepreneurs who come in, wake up and they’re like, “I got five new ideas. What do I do?” What do you say?
I met this guy years ago. He was a ventriloquist. It sounds stupid. He’s driving this Bentley. He comes in and dials and parks down here. I’m like, “Are you a ventriloquist? He goes, “Yeah.” I go, “You’re driving a Bentley. Did you inherit money?” He goes, “No, because I’m just a ventriloquist.” I go, “How are you driving a Bentley from doing some little puppets?” He goes, “Honestly, I make a couple of million dollars a year.” I go, “How?” He goes, “It’s because I’m the best one in the world. If you’re the best at anything, you will be successful.” I said, “Why are you the best?” He goes, “It’s because I love it.” It doesn’t matter what you want to do but find the idea you love.
It might be something you’ve got a much bigger idea that’s going to make you a lot more money or this and that. You’re not going to be successful. Find the one that you love and want to do and become the best at it. Even if you’re a ventriloquist, you can make a ton of money. I always thought that was interesting. Whoever thought that a guy talking through a dummy on his hand would be making that much money. He’s living a good life, driving expensive cars, flying all over, doing shows, loving what he’s doing and talking through a dummy. He’s happy. I thought that was interesting. Find whatever idea gets you excited. Even if it’s not the one that is financially going to pay off or this and that, it will if you’re good at it and you love it.
Family is a centerpiece for you in your life. It’s your two sons and your wife, Stephanie. Getting to know you, learning about you and speaking with you has been inspirational to me and to look at how you have approached fatherhood, being a spouse and the support that you’ve given to your family. Can you talk about their importance in your life, the vision you have for them and as you help them grow in this world is quite chaotic. We have this conversation with General McChrystal. How do you look at your kids now and think back to when we were growing up? It is such a much different time.
We grew up at the right time. I feel bad for them. Parents are going to freak out, but we grew up with no helmets on bikes, skidding our knees and no pads anywhere. I remember my mom would come back in the dark. You probably did the same thing and rode your bike wherever you were. When I got to the point I could ride my bike, I thought that was the greatest thing ever. I would go out all over the place and ride bikes. I don’t even know how far away we went.
There’s none of that anymore, falling and getting hurt. I don’t even think kids break bones anymore. We broke bones. We had no sides on the trampoline. We were flying off and breaking stuff. I get it, but a lot of life lessons are lost because we have over safety and everything. The political correctness and everything that we do is so much that it’s insane. My kids grew up in a lavish lifestyle, which my wife and I enjoy and have earned, but I’m worried about them too.
I’ve got a thing with my youngest kid that’s scared of everything. My oldest kid will do everything. We were in Mexico. I’m scared of heights. I said, “Let’s go parasailing.” I went up first and I was scared because I don’t like heights. I got back down and said, “Can we get the ropes shorter because he’s going to go on?” He goes, “Dad, I got this.” He went up and loved it. He’s that one kid. I can’t get my other kid to do anything. We do one brave thing a day and maybe it’s not big or small, but we do it.
I try to push them through. Here’s a great story. There’s a rollercoaster down here called the Titan. It used to be the largest roller coaster in the world and the highest. He has been terrified of it. I’m talking terrified, like seeing a great white shark live. It’s terrifying to him and it has been going on. We have driven out because I keep on saying, “We’re going to do the Titan.” He has been able to do it height-wise for years. We took him out. He started shaking and crying. This goes on and on.
I made him a deal and said, “I’ll get you this bunny if you ride the Titan.” He wants a bunny. He’s an animal person. We made a deal. I said, “Hollman keep their deals, so you got to keep your deal.” We shook hands. The bunny comes first, which was a huge mistake. I said, “We’re going there” We got there and we were with some of his friends. I get them on the Titan and he’s shaking and crying uncontrollably. It’s the most fear I’ve ever seen in anybody.
I take him back down and find my older son with another friend. They’re like, “Dad, we’re going to ride the Titan too.” I said no, grabbed him, held him and walked him up there. He’s crying and everything else. I grabbed him and said, “We’re going on the rollercoaster.” It was strange. He got dead quiet. His tears dried up. He looked at me and goes, “Let’s go.” We got on the roller coaster and he is so proud of himself. It’s his favorite thing to do.When you see an opportunity, take it, pivot, and stay focused. Click To Tweet
He always wants to go back to Six Flags and ride that rollercoaster. He is so proud of himself and everything else. The story is you got to push your kids to do these things. When we were young, shit just happened. We were in life and death situations on that skateboard because no one cared. We got no helmet skiing. It’s snowing, “Would somebody check and make sure cars aren’t going down there?” We don’t have that stuff. It’s so controlled. I wish it wasn’t.
To get through there, I’m trying to take my kids and do things with them that are not out of control but a little scary and things that push their boundaries. You’ve got to push their boundaries and get them to open up, conquer fears, be self-sufficient and do things. We will make them do the chores around the house. They got to grow up. My kids are growing up great, but I’m worried about the grit.
Are they going to have that when it gets tough? Are they going to have that “I got this” type of mentality? I hope the next society is not a bunch of big babies. Honestly, I hope they can learn some things. There’s the whining and screaming about little things. I was in a wheelchair. I flunked third grade. I was called stupid and all these names. I’m not complaining about it. It’s part of growing up.
If you did it, you would have heads flying, people would be kicked out of school, administrators would be fired and everybody would be crazy. We have this girl that works for me. She’s Asian. The girl has been with me forever. She’s my COO. She runs the company and the day-to-day operations. I was proud of her. They had a video of her kid and another kid. They’re thirteen-year-old boys. They got a fistfight at school.
“What are you talking about, mom? I wasn’t in a fight.” I felt so bad. Her kid is Asian. On the video, it looks like they both were bickering back and forth and then they got in this fight. The other kid was Caucasian and he called her kid squinty eyes. No offense. I probably did that 100 times when I was little. She laughed because she used to call White people pancake eyes when she was little. She tells the story. The kid who’s thirteen years old said something that you can’t say in society. Her kid got a half-day suspension and back the next day.
He was suspended for a week and has to go through diversity training and everything else. It’s going to stick on his permanent record going forward because he said one word. He’s a thirteen-year-old kid with hormones going through their body. That’s what we live in and that’s scary. That little thirteen-year-old kid shouldn’t have said what he said in this society. All these little things can hurt you when we used to get hurt by rocks, pavement and everything else. The rocks and pavement are going to make you a much better person. How they’re hurting kids is through social media and making them feel bad about everything else. It’s so wrong. I wish my kids had grown up in the old days.
What about the balance between family, running a business and other initiatives?
That’s interesting too. Everybody has got to go to work. We all have to make money. We all have responsibilities. At home, we push the family balance in front of the work balance. We don’t want anybody to miss soccer games. All the parents miss soccer games. I won’t do any of that. I will cancel meetings and do whatever I can to make sure I’m there for my kids. We want all of our people that work here to do the same thing. Can we sell more lockers? Do this? Who cares? At the end of the day, did you see the kids score their first goal? Are you there for them when they need you? That’s the most important thing.
I pick up my kids from school a lot, take them to most of their sports things and on vacation and see them every night. I spend most of my nights at home. I don’t go out a lot. That’s my choice. I don’t think there should be a compromise when it comes to kids. You should be there. You said you had a problem with that. That’s a different job too. All of us live around here. We’ve got our kids and we push the importance of being there for your kids and taking care of your kids even when it’s bragging a little bit at home.
I was running through the plant. There are these two guys that sand. I’m a horrible sander. Every day, they have been doing it for years. It’s the most boring thing I could ever imagine doing, but it’s important. One day, I was walking to the plant and said, “What do they want out of life?” They don’t want to become CEOs. They like their job. There’s no way I could do that for one day. I said, “What do they want?” We got down to the essence of it. I started thinking about it and said, “They are working this job and they want their kids to have a better life.” Most of our older people here are first-generation from Honduras, Mexico or South America.
We came up with a system and I said, “We’re going to give free college tuition to everybody that works here, their spouses and their kids.” We do it at North Lake College. It’s a community college here. If they go there, there are ways to get them through a four-year. North Lake has some four-year degrees. We have had 28 people that got their nursing degrees that have never worked for Hollman. We’re making middle-class families and their parents are so proud of them. The kids are proud that they got the opportunity because their parents happen to work here. That’s what’s important to them.
They don’t want to be the CEO of the company. They like their job, but they are worried about their kids, so we decided to take care of that worry. We’re still doing that. At any given time, we have about 40 to 50 people enrolled in school. Most of them are getting English as their second language. We don’t care what they take. We just want them to educate themselves. They have a truck driver program over there, which is great. This whole idea that people go to four-year colleges and stuff is crazy. We should have trade schools. I firmly believe in that because we need people to drive trucks and everything.
We have had 2 or 3 people getting their truck driving permits over there. Truck drivers are making $100,000 a year. Their parents are in here making $15 an hour, but their kids are out there making better lives. The parents are so happy to be working at a place where we can give back to their kids and build their kids up. Most of who we have in these programs are the children of the people that work here. They are not the people or their spouses. About 80% are their kids. They have never worked here, but they get an opportunity because their parents give us their hard labor and help make this company successful.
Philanthropy is a big part of you and Hollman. You also have The Hollman Family Foundation. Can you talk a little bit about the foundation and the initiatives behind there? How do we get involved?
We have The Hollman Family Foundation. We give locker rooms and redo schools once a year. We’re on our third school, which is Norte Vista High School outside of LA. It’s in Riverside. I’ve been there once. We go out and do it. The first school we did down here in Houston was United Way. A bunch of people and a great guy named Kevin got involved. He gave some flooring and stuff. We revamped the whole center. The next school was in Flint, Michigan. We had never been to Flint before. It was awesome. We showed up in Flint because their coach sent us something.
We said, “There’s a real need here.” We got up in Flint and when we got up there, Dan Gilbert, the guy who owns Quicken Loans and the Cavaliers, heard through the grapevine that this school had not won that prize and they weren’t redoing the school. He got a guy named Matt together who is a CFO for one of his companies and they decided to give $1 million to the school. We got up there and met up with Matt. We got $1 million, their money and our money. We ended up revamping the school for them. We redid basketball courts, filled in a swimming pool to make more basketball courts and did everything.
The greatest thing is that there was 100% free lunch, which means it’s an impoverished school and 100% African-American. These African-American kids come up and they’re like, “Why do you want to give to us? Why are you Texans up here?” We said, “It’s because we love you. We want to show you that people love everybody and other people.” It shouldn’t be about anything else. We didn’t know who was up there. We just knew the school was a need because of the coach.
It turned out great. That job got done. They have a new basketball facility. Their pool had been empty for years. We filled it in and Hollman paid for their court to be redone. Gilbert gave the things. They probably got about $1 million to $6 million given to them up there. Gilbert’s company got so involved that it looks like that school is going to be torn down here in 2023 or so because they got a bond initiative going to build a whole new school for $26 million for that community.Everybody can make money. We can all be successful. Click To Tweet
In Riverside, we’re doing the same thing. This guy named Mike meets me out there and he’s like, “I want to give $200,000 to help you.” I said, “We’re still putting our money in. You put your $200,000 in.” I’m going out there and we’re going to build them a state-of-the-art facility for the kids in this impoverished town to let the kids know that people love them. Strangers love them. There’s more love in the world than not. We are that concept.
There are some changes to it and I’m not going to give a lot away. We have signed a TV deal to put a charity deal on TV. We are working with one of the biggest A-list actors. He is going to come on and be our host to go through and give money back to these schools and communities, help these kids and show the kids that there’s love out there. There’s a unique opportunity in the world, especially in America and on TV, to show people that there’s love and compassion in the world.
Republicans and Democrats are so funny. If you’re a Republican, they want you to be way over here and you’re so far right. If you’re a Democrat, you’re so far left and you got to be way over here. What they don’t tell you is 90% of us are in the middle. We’re rubbing shoulders. We’re so close together, but they don’t want you to be that. There’s something with this world, especially politically. It’s divide and conquers. I don’t know what it’s called.
Either you want no abortion at all or you want to kill the baby when it’s ten years old. No one wants either one of those things. Ninety percent of us want something that makes sense for everybody, but they never talk about it. I wish they would. I wished the TV and the people in the media would get to a point where they show that 99% of us people get along, respect each other, like each other and are part of a society that works. This divides and conquers thing is an interesting thing.
We can all still win. People don’t have to lose for others to win.
There’s a book called The Richest Man in Babylon and it goes right into that. It’s talking about when you make money. I make money. Everybody around me should be making money. I buy a new house. The painter, electrician and everybody makes money. We can all be successful. It doesn’t mean that if I make money, I take your money away. That’s not how the world works. I spend money and then you bring a good and service so that you make money. You spend money and the money rotates. The only way the money doesn’t rotate is if it gets caught in one thing. Everybody is like, “Elon Musk is so wealthy.” Elon Musk doesn’t have a lot of cash, from what I understand. His money is on stock and stuff, which is working to make money for millions of other people around.
How lucky are we in the United States that we have Microsoft and Bill Gates? What if that was a Chinese company? We’re so lucky here. People are like, “They’re rich.” Get on board and do something. If I’m building a new house, that painter is getting paid. It’s always moving. Let’s keep the money moving through society and figure out how to get in the flow of that so you can make money and be part of it. My brother-in-law walked in here. He works for me. He gets paid and has built a new house. His new house is going to be done a little bit. There are a couple of hundred people that are going to take part in his money. It cycles.
It’s a culture of giving. That’s something that you’ve built here. There’s Peter Cancro, the CEO of Jersey Mike’s. Everybody knows he’s close to the show and me. He always talks about the culture of giving. When you can create the culture of giving in your organization, that’s in your community and you can give back to the community, then everybody wins. It’s truly impactful.
As we close out, the Jedburghs had to do three things during World War II every day to be successful. There are three core foundational tasks. They had to be able to shoot, move and communicate. If they did these three things with the utmost precision, they could turn their attention to the other challenges that came their way. The other thing is that they had to do to defeat the war and win. What are the three things that you do every day to set the conditions for success in your world?
One of them is pretty easy. Show up. To all you out there, many people don’t show up. My mom has a saying that works for everything. This was for all housework when we were growing up. She said, “Never travel alone.” To this day, if I’m walking past something as something needs to be moved somewhere else, I will pick it up and move it. If I’m walking past dirty dishes, I will pick them up, do them and move them. Don’t be lazy at all. There are times to relax. I get that. There’s something to always take that last extra step to do it. If you don’t, then you’re one of those people that sits around and waits for stuff to happen.
Never walk alone. That would be in business. If there’s one more email to get done, do it. Don’t do emails all night with your kids. Do what is important, get it done and go that extra step. Everybody says, “Give 110%.” There is no such thing as 110%. You can give 100%. No one is ever going to do 100%. That’s a false god too. We all say, “I gave 100%.” You could still run a little bit faster and farther even if you think you get you gave 100%. Don’t get caught in all that stuff and everybody’s big business books and podcasts. Everybody is going to tell you they did everything. Baseball is a prime example. If you hit 3 out of 10 balls, you’re considered a rockstar.
You’re successful 30% of the time when you’re the greatest.
In business, you need to be right to be successful 51% to 52% of the time. Know your downside risk and where your upside could be and make sure your upside is at a point that’s high enough that your downside risk is worth taking. I read all these books and biographies and did all these things. I guarantee you Elon Musk would tell you he has no idea how he got where he is.
He saw something, took an opportunity, pivoted, kept working at it, kept focused, saw something else and took that opportunity. He has had more failures than we even know about. That’s the real story. We lost a big contract. I’m upset, but the resilience comes in and the perseverance and everything I said. We got a meeting. We’re going to figure out why and how we lost it and put a game plan together, so that doesn’t happen again.
We will be a stronger company because we lost that one. If we got that one, we would have made some money and it would have been nice, but we would have sat down on our heels a little bit farther. Take failures and adversity as great things. Take bullying and all that other stuff. It sounds crazy but take it as a great thing. Take all those things that you look back to and say, “I had this horrible childhood,” but take it as, “I’m resilient. I got grit and all these things come out.”
I’m so happy where you are. My wife will tell you the bad stuff. She will say, “Do you remember when this happened?” I’m like, “I don’t remember when it happened.” The good stuff, I can remember. I always try to get the bad stuff out of my head. The number three is to focus on the good, get rid of the bad, learn from the bad stuff and don’t remember the circumstances of the things. I know what people called me when I was a little, but I don’t put their faces in my head and remember how it felt. I go, “That was interesting. It’s time to move on.”
Show up, never walk alone, focus on the good and learn from the bad. Travis, thank you so much. Thanks for hosting me here at Hollman. I truly am inspired. I mean everything I say. I’m inspired by what you’ve built in the company, your drive, your childhood, what you overcame, the grit that we talked about so much and the integrity that you have here. At the end of these, I always take the nine characteristics and assign one to my guests.
For you, I think about integrity and doing the right thing. We started the conversation with that and talked about giving. When you truly put the needs of others ahead of yourself and the tangibles, the intangibles become greater within the organization and everybody latches onto that. That’s what I see as I’ve spent some time here with you and your team. I appreciate your time and you joining me. This is a truly impactful conversation.
- Hollman Lockers
- Episode 38 – Midnight Express Powerboats – President Harris Glaser
- Bay Eight
- Episode 41 – The Attributes – Navy SEAL Rich Diviney
- Culture Index
- The Attributes
- Episode 34 – A User’s Guide – General Stan McChrystal
- The Hollman Family Foundation
- Quicken Loans
- The Richest Man in Babylon
- Jersey Mike’s