Advice from a millennial CEO

CEOKevin Lavelle, 29, is founder and CEO of Mizzen+Main, a menswear company based in Dallas. He was a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2015.

Executive Leadership newsletter: You founded the firm in 2012. How have you evolved as a CEO?

Lavelle: Everything is much harder than you think it will be. It will take longer than you expect. It will cost more than you budget for. One of the most important things I’ve learned is to stick to your convictions and keep your eyes on the long game. Any one particularly great day or bad day does not make or break you. You have to keep going no matter what.

EL: In sticking to your convictions, how do you integrate the need to change with keeping your eyes on the long game?  

Lavelle: To me, it’s like a long journey when you’re sailing. You know your general heading. You may need to go around an island or avoid a storm or change some day-to-day tactics based on weather conditions or your crew. Any course corrections don’t change where you need to end up. As we bounce along and weather the storms and avoid the collisions, we may get battered a little bit and we get better for it every day.

EL: What is the key to attracting great people?

Lavelle: It is how we project who we are and what we’re doing and what we’re building. Most of our team is about age 30. Our generation wants to feel like they’re a part of something and participating in a bigger success, not just clocking in and clocking out. The first 15 is hard and the next 15 will be even harder because the filtering becomes a lot greater as we grow.

EL: You’re managing people roughly your age. Any tips you’d give a 55-year-old manager on how to supervise a 30-year-old?

Lavelle: If your company and your vision are not aligned with those individuals who work with and for you, then none of the tips matter. You need to be aligned with where that person feels he or she will end up. It isn’t about you can show up or leave at this time or you get this many vacation days. It’s about what do you want to do with your life?

EL: So do you ask employees, “What do you want to do with your life?”

Lavelle: Yes, I ask that. It’s not that I expect them to say, “I want to be vice president of product development by age 35” but about how they want to make an impact. “I really love operations and I’d like to get more involved in that” or “I’m really great at sales and even though I’m not in that role, it’s something I’d like to be involved in.” That allows me to help shape our direction.

EL: If you attract great people, is motivating them a factor or are they self-motivated?

Lavelle: All of our team is very self-motivated and those are the people I want on board. Yes, the equity options matter and the good paycheck and some level of work-life balance. Those are perks. But it’s the motivation to want to be a part of something bigger and work with great people to do so is what gets them up every day and what gets me up every day.