Part two in a two-part series- Two years into his role as President of the Malcolm Bryant Corporation, Madison Silvert reflects on the processes put in place that enabled him to succeed.
Founded by husband and wife Malcolm and Sally Bryant, The Malcolm Bryant Corporation is a successful real estate development and management company in Owensboro, Kentucky. The Bryants and their company have grown to become one of the most respected and impactful businesses in Owensboro. Given their visibility and relationships in the area, they knew that, when it came to succession, they had to get it right – for their family, the company, and the people in the community. In the second half of this interview, we sit down with Madison Silvert, the president hired to take over the business operations, to discuss how he was onboarded and enabled to succeed.
You grew up in Owensboro, worked within your family’s law firm, and served as president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. How did these experiences prepare you for the role at TMBC?
Since I was young, I’ve known that no matter what I did moving forward in my life, it was going to have to have Owensboro at the heart of it. I’ve always found great value serving this community and helping its people. If I was ever going to leave the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation (GOEDC), I would need to be in an organization that loved and respected our community.
The Malcolm Bryant Corporation has had a long history in Owensboro, and their commitment to our city has always been clear. GOEDC worked with The Malcolm Bryant Corporation on a project or two and Malcolm himself was on our board of directors. By the time conversations about working with TMBC had begun, I had worked side by side with one of its founders for years.
My career in law and economic development certainly helped me on a few projects with TMBC early on, but the true ‘leg up’ I’ve had over the past few years comes from my history with this town and my connections with the community here.
What were the dynamics that informed the decision to join a firm you knew so much about? What were some of the concerns?
I saw huge opportunity in the ability to have a meaningful impact, but my biggest concern was mismanaging the weight of responsibility of the role. The Malcolm Bryant Corporation has such an impactful corporate identity here. Malcolm and Sally built something special from scratch and there was an overwhelming feeling of “Oh my gosh, I don’t want to let them down.”
But, Malcolm and Sally were just so incredibly patient and forgiving and kind. They had done their homework, had a deep understanding of the challenges and knew that the transition was a team sport. There was a clearly defined onboarding process, a lot of preparation, a lot of planning and a lot of communication. So, when the time came, we were very well prepared.
When Malcolm and Sally explored their motivations for continuing their business, they centered their reasoning on the value of their people. What was your approach to meeting and developing relationships with the people of The Malcolm Bryant Corporation? And, how did you earn their trust?
There were a couple of people that I already knew from work at GOEDC; so, when I came on board at TMBC, I had familiarity with some of the key people.
I also knew that Malcolm and Sally had actively cultivated a team of extremely nice people that are professional and easy to work with. So, the stage for a successful introduction was set long before I was hired. When I was brought on board, I was coming in with a position of authority, and Malcolm and Sally set it up so that in the beginning I was meeting people and learning the business from a high level.
By design, I spent the first couple of months meeting the employees of TMBC, learning about their work and how they view the company. This process engendered trust, because, not only was I establishing relationships with everyone in the company, but more importantly, I was learning their views of (and hopes for) the future.
This process of learning and alignment culminated in Malcolm and Sally asking me to rewrite the company vision to reflect what I had learned about the company from spending time with the employees and customers. It’s a common concern that a new leader with authority will seek to change the DNA of the company to reflect their own. Malcolm and Sally’s onboarding flipped that around…they ensured that my DNA reflected the company and its community.
What have you done to learn the business? How did Malcolm, Sally and the TMBC team enable you to succeed in the role?
A lot of learning came with time and specific opportunities to sit down and learn. Early on, Sally, Malcolm and I sat down for regular meetings to plan, discuss, and learn. The meetings eventually became board meetings. One of the major elements that was critical for me to understand is that onboarding me was also outboarding Malcolm and Sally. Everything was evolving along a planned progression, but it was new for everyone.
As time went on, I was brought deeper and deeper into the operation. The last thing Malcolm and Sally wanted to do was throw me in the deep end. Their worry was that if I were to get bogged down in a particular issue, like damage to a property for example, I would get wrapped up the granular details and never see the forest through the trees.
Too many leaders hop from fire to fire without understanding the needs of the business from a higher level. To avoid this, the demands of the role were incrementally introduced. I was allowed the time to learn and I asked a lot of questions.
Describe your relationship with Malcolm and Sally today? How has that relationship evolved over the past year?
Malcolm had seen me for the greater part of 10 years in the board room, so he had a good sense of who I was, and I knew what he was about. The trust relationship with him developed over that time span.
My relationship with Sally began in the interview process. I had immediate respect for how she approached and prepared for meeting me. I think Sally trusted the process that she had invested in and the fact that Malcolm and I had established professional rapport gave us good ground to build a relationship on.
I can’t emphasize enough how important their trust in me has been to this point. The biggest responsibility for me personally with the company is never losing that trust. They are both important people to me.
Both Malcolm and Sally are highly visible in the Owensboro community, as are you. How were these two ‘public brands’ successfully merged?
Recently, I was catching up with a friend who, in reference to my joining TMBC, said something along the lines of, “I was really surprised when it happened, but after the fact I thought: ‘oh, of course, that makes so much sense.” I’ve received a lot of that type reaction.
I’ve always tried to be the person my parents raised me to be, and I believe Malcolm and Sally are role models for successful people.
I have a feeling, in some ways, that both Malcolm and I can be a little goofy and that we’re both soft-hearted people. At the same time, I have adopted a lot of the intentional and analytical methods through my education that Sally does so naturally. In short, I don’t believe that the ‘brands’ so to speak where that different.
President, Community Leader, Steward (let alone father and husband)… What are the ‘buckets’ of your unique position and how do you manage the time you spend with each bucket?
This is the question that I struggle with more than anything else. I have three kids and I want to be a super dad, I have an incredible wife that deserves the best husband possible, and I want to be a successful company president and an impactful community volunteer, but there are only so many minutes in a day.
The more time I give to one priority, the less my other priorities receive. I wake up every morning and look at how I can be proactive. I don’t want to let my time be wasted. I want to use it as an opportunity to create and influence and lead. This brings me to the buckets. I don’t know what the right mix is, I just try to keep the balance right on a needs basis.
But, as a father and husband, if I’m doing anything out of work that doesn’t involve my family in some way, I probably shouldn’t be there. I am intentional about how I spend my time with my family and am trying to manage that time as best as I can.
What have you learned that you can share with others from your experience of being brought on board as the successor to the founders of a business?
You’ve got to go into a situation like this with a servant’s heart. Understand that you are being given a great opportunity to lead a legacy. If you’re going in solely for yourself, you are going to fail because the business wasn’t built for you.
The reality is that you go in with eyes wide open and ask: ‘What can I do to add value to this company and to maintain the legacy that it already has?’
Being a steward is not an opportunity to write a new paradigm, it's an opportunity to preserve something that’s already been done by simply trying to make it a better version of what it already is.