Chris hits the lacrosse field for better business skills
Chris McCabe has been playing both hockey and lacrosse since he was young. He had an older brother who also played, so he helped mentor Chris. Later, he attended the University of Vermont, becoming the captain of the Men’s Lacrosse team and later named to the 40th Anniversary Lacrosse team at UVM. Chris went on to play professionally for the Boston Blazers of the National Lacrosse League (NLL) and was inducted into the University of Vermont Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002.
In this episode, Chris and I talk about how his playing sports gives him the strength and perspective to have a successful career. He finds that making a connection with others in the office makes a huge difference. He says, “It’s this inherent interest we have in one another that makes it a nice experience when we come to work.”
Chris McCabe is the Director of Marketing and Business Development at Gallagher, Flynn & Company in Burlington, VT.
He received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Vermont, where he was the team captain of the Men’s Lacrosse team.
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Welcome to Episode 142 of the Green Apple Podcast. This is John Garrett, and each Wednesday, I interview a professional who just like me is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work, making them stand out like a green apple in a stereo typically boring red apple world. To put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and”, as in my guest, Chris McCabe, is a marketing director and played professional Lacrosse.
When I first met Chris in an AIM Summit in Portland, Oregon just a couple of months ago and find out that he played professional Lacrosse, there’s definitely some follow-up questions and a really, really fun conversation, because that’s what made me turned my head like “Wait, what?”, what made you stand out. Because it’s our hobbies and our passions that we love to talk about and others love to hear about too, but only if we tell them. When I fly on a plane I typically don’t like to talk to a lot of people sitting next to me. When they ask me what I do and I say “Accountant” – done. There’s never a follow-up question.
But if I say, “Speaker, consultant, comedian”, then we’re talking the whole flight long. I’ve got a quick favor that I’ve asked before we get in to Chris. If you like the show and are listening on iTunes or your favorite Android app, please don’t forget to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week, and this week is no different with my guest Chris McCabe. He’s the director of marketing and business development in Gallagher, Flynn & Company in Burlington, Vermont. Now, Chris you’re with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
Chris: It’s great to be here, John. Thanks for having me.
John: Absolutely, and it was so fun meeting you at the AIM Summit in Portland, Oregon. I was like, man, this guy’s got to be on the Green Apple Podcast. It’s so cool to have you on. I gave people a little bit of an introduction of you, but maybe in your own words where you’re at now professionally and a little bit of how you got there?
Chris: Sure. I am privileged to serve as the director of marketing in business development at Gallagher, Flynn. We’re the oldest and largest firm of our kind in Vermont. I’ve been here for just almost three years and I come from a marketing and sales background mostly in the sports and entertainment industry and made the jump to accounting as I said a few years back.
John: Right, right. Well, when people think sports and entertainment, they think accounting, so it’s really a natural transition. I mean, it’s similar to me from going from accounting to comedy. I just did the reverse. The universe is now balanced. That’s awesome.
Chris: Really fine parallels, I’m sure.
John: Yeah, exactly, exactly. What made you want to go into sales and marketing?
Chris: I think being a student athlete in college, I had an inherent interest in sports in general. The business around sports. When I came out of school I was playing professional lacrosse in Boston and just sort of gravitated that. It was just part of who I was, part of my DNA. I was interested not only in the competition piece of it, but how does the business work? How does an event go from start to finish? What’s the business side look of that? You know, the sponsorship piece.
That’s what kind of led me to get a sales background and then sort of transform that sales background into a marketing background. I found at the heart of whatever I was doing, I enjoyed seeing how pieces fit together in a relationship, in a business relationship or in a deal, and those things became sort of core to what I was looking for in my jobs, or looking for to make me successful.
John: Yeah, that’s fantastic, man, that’s fantastic, and then that leads right into your passions and interests outside of work. I mean, obviously Lacrosse is a big part of that or was and who you are becoming – playing professionally. I mean, that’s pretty rare.
Chris: It is, and it’s been great to see how the game has grown over the last few decades since I stepped away from it, but I still enjoy it and in everything that I do in a given day, I’ll think of something specifically. I’ll think of a game. I’ll think of a time where it was very difficult. One of the things I say to my kids about sports is I have an 80/20 rule. I tell them this, that 80% of it is hard and not much fun.
If you get cut, if you hurt, you don’t perform well, those are tough days. The 20% of it – the winning, the camaraderie, the trips, the teammates – make that 80% worth it, and that’s something that I think people forget because they go to an activity every time and they expect it to be a party, and it’s not. It’s not like that.
I remind myself of those lessons I learned on the field in my work life. I was privileged enough to attend the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey near where I was from and it’s a Lacrosse factory if you will, and I was again fortunate enough to go to the University of Vermont. I was a lifelong Lacrosse and hockey player. That was a tough transition because I have to put hockey down, but I’d say hockey is one my passions in terms of what I watch. I continue to play in two great groups up here in Vermont.
That’s most of the year and on a weekly basis and it’s a great outlet. I enjoy trying to stay fit. There’s a little sliver on the competition there, too. We have fun with it but as I said it’s a good talented group to skate with. Being able to play with Lacrosse after college was a unique thing, and it was a choice, because there’s not really not that much money in it.
To be able to see it through – I felt like the best part of my career was the last game walking off the field saying, “I did everything I set out to do in this, and I reached my potential.” I think because of that and when after I walked away I wasn’t one of those people like “I wished I’d stayed for just one more season”. I just felt good about that it was time. I got so much out of it. I look back and every job I’ve gotten, every relationship that I’ve been able to build I can somehow trace it back to my involvement in the sport of lacrosse.
I owe it a great deal. It helps me get strength and perspective sometimes, but it really was a great experience, and it’s part of you for the rest of your life.
John: Yeah, no. That’s fantastic, man, and it’s something that I’m sure you played since you were very, very little.
Chris: I did. I had an older brother who sort of mentored me and he played as well. It was very popular where I grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, and it’s just something we did.
John: Right, right. Yeah. I actually have a cousin who has some boys that live in West Iceland out in Long Island which is also a lacrosse factory of sorts. They’re all about it. They’re going to camps. I mean, nowadays, it’s crazy. They’re in Maryland for tournaments. They’re all over the place.
Chris: Yeah. In sports in general today, John, it’s amazing the way kids get pigeonholed and having to pick one sport and families have to go all in on that. It’s a huge financial and time commitment, but I think it has its pluses as well as long as you can apply that 80/20 rule I mentioned and then you have a good perspective and be successful.
John: Yeah, yeah. I mean when I was 12, the only thing I was 100% all in on was Nintendo. Everything else was like – sports and school and whatever, yeah, whatever. Is the lacrosse and the hockey something that you talk about in the office?
Chris: It comes up from time to time. You want to keep that in perspective, but it is part of what makes me unique versus the person next to me. Sometimes when you’re trying to relate to a topic, it comes up, or somebody will ask me about it. I try not to make my office a shrine to it, but there’s a couple of items in here that would prompt someone to know that I played and the things that I’m proud of. It does come up often, because it is something that makes you again different from some of your workmates.
John: Right, absolutely, and it’s just something that comes up in conversation. It’s one thing that people struggle with is, well, how do I bring it up? Is it just more of it just fits organically into the conversation or somebody notices something in your office?
Chris: I think it can sometimes be both. I work very closely with one of our audit partners who’s the partner sort of in-charge of marketing that I report to, then he played hockey at the University of Vermont. It’s part of what connects to that. The two of us have that unique experience. I think it’s something that people are inherently interested in hearing about who haven’t done, as I would be with you if I’d ask you what was it like the first time you stepped up on stage to do standup? When standup went from an idea you had to, wow! I’m actually doing this.
I think it’s that kind of inherent interest that we all have in one another that’s interesting to find out and that makes it a nice experience to come to work and do more than just your work with your face in your screen all day.
John: Right, right, absolutely, and then you can probably do your work better because you know the other people around you better, yeah, yeah. How much do you feel like it’s on the firm? Because it sounds like Gallagher, Flynn & Company is a pretty open place. How much do you think it’s on the firm to create that culture where it’s okay to socialize, if you will, versus it’s on the individual to just kind of step-up and be like hey, I’m just kind of create a little circle of friends that I trust and talk to them?
Chris: Yeah, no I think when you get to this stage of your career that I’m in, the most important thing to me is the people. As I pondered coming to join Gallagher, Flynn a few years back, I had the opportunity to meet with virtually all of the equity partners one on one, bar head of HR who she’s a superstar, and I just felt like the more I talked to this people that I had known them for so long. Jason Hamilton, our audit partner who I work closely with, I’ve known for a long time, and we played hockey together, and that’s kind of what led us to talk. When I got to know the firm more and more, I became more and more hooked on the idea that hey, these are the people that I want to spend my days with. I had this nice feeling in the back of my mind and this could be my last stop. This is great.
In terms of culture – you mentioned the culture, the firm does a great job in terms of checking in on people open door policies. When go out and socialize as a firm, we don’t concern ourselves with budget. We want to make it nice. They do things here, and quality is kind of a hallmark. When I talk about brand with people, your brand is what you are.
I feel like in Gallagher, Flynn you see it in the office. You have people that care about you as a client. That care about you as co-worker. The firm demonstrates that in several different ways whether it’s relaxing the dress code on Fridays or Fridays in non-busy season letting it close in the office at 2:00.
I think those are parts that people come to appreciates and makes the busy season easier to swallow for folks. They do it in a number of different ways, and you see it on a daily basis. You see groups of people going out to lunch or lunch being brought in for the firm on a particularly snowy day if they don’t want people to have to go out and deal with the weather. They’ll bring lunch in. It’s just those little reminders that tell you as an employee, hey, they care about me here.
John: Right, right, which is fantastic, it’s just that little extra step. The catering and lunch because it’s dangerous outside on the roads, it’s such a small investment in the people, really, but says so much. Do you feel like a lot of the partners are pretty open with what their passions and interests are?
Chris: Yeah. I find that they are. In accounting some of the partners, their passion and interest is accounting. But I find people are pretty easy to talk to and a lot of side conversations in the halls about sports or music, or I’ve got one of my colleague’s rides dirt bikes. He and I talk about that all the time. I’m like, boy, I wish I could do that, but my wife probably wouldn’t –
John: Right, you have to get all of the lacrosse gear back out for that to pad up.
Chris: Now golf, snowshoeing, working out, riding my bike – all activities where someone isn’t trying to knock me down.
John: Right, non-contact. Solo sports. Yeah.
Chris: That’s right.
John: That’s fantastic, man. That’s really awesome. I’m also fascinated by this, because I guess I was just too stupid to know that people didn’t talk about their things when I worked with PWC. But what do you think it is that holds people back from wanting to share their passions and interests outside of work?
Chris: It’s an interesting question, John. The only thing I can think of is – I go back to that – sometimes, people are afraid of failure. Failure could be big – missing a project – could be small – not making the impression you want to make on someone. I think people get nervous about, that and they’re not sure, is this the appropriate forum? Are we far enogh along in our relationship for me to tell you that I like to play golf, or I like to go snowshoeing or ride my bike or workout or those are important parts of my day where I’ve get that work-life balance?
I think people err on their side of caution, and I know some businesses are very much like “Don’t bring your personal life to work, you’re here to work, and when you leave you can go home and do what you like to do,” but I think it’s as you’ve pointed out and I’ve seen as well, that can be a pretty boring non-fulfilling way to spend your days.
I think the answer to the question is people get nervous that maybe they’re not going to make the impression that they want, or it’s not going to impress someone the way they want to, and they hold back.
John: Right, right, but it’s one of those where your holding back I think cuts you off. You’re not ever going to be able to be truly successful and really succeed if you’re holding back. You’re going to work with one arm tied behind your back.
Chris: Yeah. It’s interesting when you talk to people. I was at a point my career before I joined Gallagher, Flynn and I was making the move. I contemplated starting my own sort of sales in marketing consultancy, and it was interesting when I did the analysis over working for yourself versus working for the employer. I felt like it was interesting to weigh out what are the pros and cons of that. One of the things that first think off is, well, I’m my own boss, so I can do whatever I want.
I think it’s interesting that at least for me, what does that tell me? That I’m afraid of having a boss, or have I had a bad relationships with bosses in the past? Interesting to do that analysis yourself.
John: Yeah, yeah. I know. I’m also the secretary. I’m also the sales. I’m also the – I mean, you’re everything.
Chris: That’s right.
John: Yeah. Do you have any words of encouragement for those people that are listening that maybe are holding back or think that, well, me playing lacrosse or hockey has nothing to do with accountings or law, so why I should I ever bring that up?
Chris: I think when you get to that comfort level and you’re able to share those things, it indicates that it’s progress that you’re building relationships at work, and that’s important, because people are depending on you. You’re depending on your workmates. It’s important to build those relationships, and that’s how we do that: by connecting with each other. What is it that connects us to one another? I saw your keynote in Portland. It really resonated with me, and it gave me some insight into you, John, that I was able to walk up and shake your hand and introduce myself in a social setting.
I think that’s just an example, because you shared something, so I was like, oh, it’s okay to go up and say hi to this guy. He’ll get it. I think if we don’t do that, then we never make that connection. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Always ask yourself what’s the worst thing that can happen?
It looks like if I make a sales call? I’m not nervous, because the worst thing that can happen is they say no. Or they don’t call me back or whatever the next step is. My dog still runs up and loves me when I get home. My kids still love me. My wife hopefully still loves me, and I don’t worry about that stuff.
John: Yeah. I know. That’s exactly it. When you have other dimensions to your life, then suddenly everything at work isn’t really as much of an impact. We’re not in sixth grade anymore where people are going to judge you for doing macramé plant holders or whatever the heck you’d like you do. It’s cool now. We’re adults. Also, I think too a lot of people are like “I’m not very good at it.” Well, no one is good at it. That’s why they’re not getting paid.
Chris: Well, you bring up a great point. When you put yourself out there, it’s also okay to say what I’m not good at. I have to mow my lawn. I can’t fix my lawnmower. If something breaks at our house, I am close to useless in terms of fixing it. Some people are very handy, and I have a lot of those friends, but I’m honest about that. I think that’s another way that connect with people like, “Oh. This person put themselves out there.” There’s a lot of things we can’t do well, and I think it’s important to be honest about those.
John: Yeah. But that all comes with the confidence that you were talking about earlier.
John: That’s awesome, man. Well, this has been really, really great. Before I fly out to the East Coast and we play some Lacrosse or some hockey, which is going to be hilarious because I’m not very good at either one, I have my 17 rapid fire questions that I like to run you through.
Chris: Okay, fire away.
John: Let me fire this thing up, and all right. Here we go. First one, what’s a typical breakfast?
Chris: Typical breakfast would be coffee. Sometimes coffee is a standalone or coffee maybe with a bagel.
John: Okay, nice. How about do you have a favorite color?
Chris: I’m going to say many shades of blue.
John: Okay, how about a least favorite color?
Chris: I’m going to be honest. I’m not a huge purple guy.
John: Yeah. No. I hear you. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Chris: I’m going to say Star Trek.
John: When it comes to computers more of a PC or a Mac?
Chris: I have a PC at work, but I’m more of a Mac guy.
John: More of a Mac guy. All right. How about do you have a favorite sport’s team?
Chris: I’d probably say the New York Rangers, but friends of mine would say I like whoever is in first place.
John: How about when you’re on airplane, more window or aisle seat?
Chris: I like the window.
John: All right. How about suit and tie or more jeans and a t-shirt?
Chris: Jeans and a t-shirt.
John: All right. When it comes to marketing, I have to ask you because you’re a marketing guy, do you prefer more video or images?
Chris: That’s an interesting question. I would say video.
John: Video. All right. Nice. How about Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
Chris: I’d say crossword puzzle for me.
John: Sure. When it comes to a toilet paper roll, over or under?
Chris: That’s a tough one. I’m going to say under.
John: Under, okay. How about oceans or mountains?
John: Oceans. All right. Do you have a favorite number?
Chris: I have several favorite numbers I’ve worn, but I’ll go with four.
John: Four, is that from your sports days?
Chris: Yeah. I wear four in college.
John: All right. I’ve got to ask you this one. Do you have a favorite font?
Chris: What is it, Helvetica? I’ll go with that.
John: Helvetica, okay. All right. Three more, three more do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Chris: I don’t know if I have one favorite, but I don’t think I’ll pick one. I’ll go with Robert Devoe.
John: Okay. Yeah. That’s a solid answer. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Chris: I’m both.
John: Both, look at you, man. The last one the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Chris: My golden doodle Lester is one of my prized possessions. If I can have two, I’ve got this cool case of collector’s coins from the famous New York speakeasy, the 21 Club. What’s cool about these coins is my dad won them in a bet from John Wayne back in probably the early ’70s and just recently gave them to me and said “Oh yeah, I won this for John Wayne. We were spending at the bar together, and we were flipping a coin and betting on it, and he didn’t any cash on him, so he gave me this collector’s set of coins.” I thought that was pretty cool.
John: That’s beyond pretty cool, man. That is awesome. Wow. That is really cool, man. This was great. Thank you so much, Chris, again, for coming up and saying hi at the AIM Summit after I talked and yeah, for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Chris: Absolutely, my pleasure, and I’d glad to come on again anytime.
John: Wow! That was really, really good. I just loved how Chris said, “It’s the inherent interest we have with one another that makes it a nice experience when we come to work.” Like imagine that: going to work, and it’s a nice experience, because that’s how work it’s done – through a relationship with people. Not taking time to build this relationships is going to be detrimental in the long run, so as Chris mentioned, don’t be afraid to ask, what’s the worst thing that can happen if you share your passions and interests that you have outside of work? I promise you that you’ll be really, really surprised at how interested people will be.
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