How to be wildly successful in everything you do.
INTERVIEW WITH ENTREPRENEUR JIM HAYS.
"Perfect is like the horizon, it is just not humanly reachable. But the journey is worth the effort."
Have you ever felt trapped in your career or life? You want to venture out but you don’t see how you can possibly make the jump to a seemingly unrelated field.
That is a gut-wrenching feeling. It’s horrible because you feel like you don’t have control.
You’re stuck with no clear path forward.
You’re held back because you don’t fit the exact profile required. Maybe you don’t have the right pedigree. Or maybe you just don’t ‘fit’.
Highly accomplished people aren't successful because they had an easy path that was laid out for them. Instead when faced with major obstacles they view these challenges as opportunities to learn and they tackle them head on. They reflect, strategize, and pivot their approach. They take it upon themselves to act rather than waiting for an opportunity to come their way.
Jim Hays is a man that has found the key to smashing through the status quo. He’s charted his own way in each step of his life debunking the ‘typical’ background required fallacy.
It’s astounding how he has accomplished so much, in so little time, in seemingly so many unrelated fields.
After you read this interview you may wonder, has Mr. Hays cracked the code on human cloning? Have there been multiple Jim Hays running around the earth starting businesses, playing professional golf, and commissioning novels all at once? Is that how he has accomplished so much? I assure you he has not...or at least I think so.
I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Hays, and like any good Texan, he has been blessed with the gift of gab. Fortunately for us, he provides us a portal into the mind of a man that has done it all. We covered topics spanning business, sports, philosophy, literature, and science to uncover what habits, routines, and traits Mr. Hays has developed in order to become wildly successful.
Mr. Hays has so many interests and has achieved so many accolades it is astounding. Those achievements include:
3-time varsity baseball athlete at Oklahoma State University and 3-time College World Series participant.
High ranking executive in the golf industry.
Founder and owner of an oil and gas gathering company that eventually sold for over $100 million in 6 years.
Former member of the U.S. and European Senior Golf Tours.
Former regular contributor to a newspaper column in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Current CEO of Exostat Medical, a startup company on the forefront of groundbreaking devices in the medical industry.
Member of the International Business Leaders Council to the Vatican…yes that Vatican.
Member of a steering committee to a scientific innovation community. (You won’t believe what technologies are happening over there. Read the end of this article to learn more.)
Financier of a fictional political satire novel.
International man of mystery. (I may have added this to his accolades, but how could you argue otherwise?)
This is a long interview but well worth every minute you spend reading. Below are the main habits, routines, and principles of Mr. Hays that have been formative in his outlandish success in nearly every aspect of his life.
THE 7 KEY BUILDING BLOCKS TO MR.HAYS’ SUCCESS:
“If you want to be special, you better be special on the way up.”
- As Mr. Hays says, if you’re only prepared to do something, then you are under-prepared. You must over-prepare in order to win. This is the simple philosophy he has applied to his life in athletics, business, family, and faith.
- “Read until your eyes bleed.”
- If you want to be successful, read like crazy. “There are 2,000 years of brilliance on bookshelves waiting to be read.” This includes Socrates, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and writings from the Renaissance. Their teachings are just as valid today as they were hundreds of years ago.
- Do one thing every day that will make you better than yesterday.
- “You don't have to shoot your best every day, but you want your average to go up every day. You want your average game to get better and better until your average game is better than everyone else's. And that's what you want in business as well. Your reputation isn't given to you, it's earned. And your skill set isn't given to you it's earned in business.”
- Find great mentors and bleed them dry of their knowledge.
- You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Follow somebody that has done it before and learn from them.
- Create balance in your life. View yourself as a four-legged stool.
- Mr. Hays has built his life around his faith, family, health, and work. If one part gets out of balance he works to keep it in check otherwise that four-legged stool will topple over.
- Rebound quickly from your losses.
- Mr. Hays could have beaten himself up for leaving a lucrative career only to end up in a company that went bankrupt but what good would belaboring his loss do for him? You have to put your cowboy boots back on and get back out there to create your next opportunities.
- Never feel like you’ve “arrived”. Keep stoking the fire to learn, experience, and grow.
- After selling Mega Natural Gas for over $100 million Mr. Hays said there was no euphoria involved because he knew there was still so much left for him to accomplish in his life. Despite this success he still hadn’t “arrived”. This doesn’t mean he isn’t proud of his accomplishments or doesn’t enjoy what he has created. He was simply ready to create his next exciting adventure.
YOUR GREATEST “FAILURES” MAY BE THE LAUNCHING PAD FOR YOUR GREATEST SUCCESS.
After leaving a senior executive position in the golf industry, Mr. Hays joined an oil and gas drilling company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Things were going very well. The team thought their company was rich and unstoppable until the price of oil dropped from $36 to $9 in one day. This left the company Mr. Hays was working for filing for bankruptcy. Mr. Hays was forced to assist the company through the bankruptcy proceedings in a trying 10-month period. However, despite a catastrophic event, the knowledge gained through the bankruptcy work ended up being the lynchpin for his next opportunity. Mr. Hays was able to apply that knowledge in his next venture which involved purchasing distressed oil and gas assets and building the largest gas gathering and processing company in Oklahoma. He would eventually sell this company for more than $100 million in only 6 years. Think about that. If the company he was working for didn’t go bankrupt, he never would have gained the knowledge and skills that would ultimately lead him to his greatest success to date.
“BE FEARFUL WHEN OTHERS ARE GREEDY AND GREEDY WHEN OTHERS ARE FEARFUL.” -WARREN BUFFETT
This is the formula Mr. Hays learned and applied when working for ClubCorp and Mega Natural Gas. When others were reeling from losses, high interest rates, or down economies, Mr. Hays saw it as the opportunity to purchase properties and assets at deep discounts. This led to rapid expansion and value-creation.
Conversely, when things became too expensive via a strong economy, Mr. Hays didn’t fall into the trap of over-paying. As he says in this interview, “If it costs too much to buy, it’s time to sell.” Know when to cash out.
HOW TO BUILD GREAT TEAMS:
“If you want to build the world's greatest yacht company, you hire people that yearn for the sea.”
- Set the vision.
- As a leader it starts with setting a vision that is absolutely clear and then having everybody on the team buy into that vision. In the case of Mr. Hays’ current venture, Exostat Medical, the vision is simple: save hundreds of thousands of lives each year by preventing septic shock. If an employee doesn’t buy into that vision, get rid of them because they will be a poison that infects the rest of your team.
- Find the best.
- Go out and find the best of breed in every young person you can and build your team. Make sure they are smart and most importantly not locked into the status quo because where Mr. Hays is going there is no status quo. It hasn’t been done before.
- Make it OK to be “non-successful”.
- As Mr. Hays puts it, in order to break status quo, you are going to be non-successful often. Failure only occurs when you quit trying. So be non-successful fast and often, and with enough trial and error you will ultimately be incredibly successful. As a leader, be there to help but don't pressure your employees to always get it right. If you want monumental leaps forward, become accustomed to and embrace the non-success.
- Get the hell out of the way.
- Make your expectations of your employees crystal clear and then get out of the way so they can astonish you by exceeding your standards.
- If your goal is to create true innovations in your field, then question everything. Challenge what is sacrosanct and don’t assume anything “must be”.
Last but not least, read on to the end and discover two additional sections. This first section I have affectionately named, Jimstradamus! In this section Mr. Hays has major predictions for our world by 2025…I can only hope he is right. The second section highlights Mr.Hays' experience financing and publishing a fictional novel.
Parker: Could you talk about your childhood, where you grew up, and what your upbringing was like?
Mr. Hays: My whole upbringing was sports. I played three sports in high school in New Mexico: football, basketball, and track because we didn't have a baseball team […] Then my senior year we transferred back to Oklahoma and I went to the largest school in Oklahoma. […] I played basketball and baseball and we won the state championship in basketball. We were runner up in the state championship in baseball and I made All-State. That was the first year I ever played school baseball, but I did play men's baseball in the summer with grown men when I was 14 years old. [...] I was a pretty good athlete as a kid and ended up with a scholarship to Oklahoma State. Played in three College World Series. We won the Big Eight all three years, and we were a pretty good team. We finished second, fifth, and third my three years there.
Parker: And was that at the old Rosenblatt Stadium [College World Series]?
Mr. Hays: Yeah, we played at Rosenblatt... yeah, we did. [...] I will tell you one game that I remember the most out of all the games I've played l my entire life. We played Arizona State my junior year and they eliminated us. That was the second game. That's the year we finished fifth, but they eliminated us in the game to go to the finals. And on that team, Arizona State, as I recall, Sal Bando on third, Rick Monday in center, Reggie Jackson in right, and the guy that pitched against us was a guy named Gary Gentry, who won two of the four games when the miracle Mets won the World Series. […] Reggie hit a home run over me in center field. I swear, Parker, the minute that ball was hit, I had pretty good eyes, and I could see the ball leave, it went over the top light, deep center field, and I never took a step backwards. It was out of there, and that guy was on a football scholarship. He wasn't even there to play baseball. It was incredible. That game is vivid in my memory.
Parker: What kind of skills did you develop by playing baseball at the highest level in the NCAA?
Mr. Hays: I think it had to do with teammates. I found in my business career that the guys that played team sports, for example, made better team members in business than let's say a swimmer who's on their own or a wrestler who's on their own. […] I think just the concept of teamwork, of I've got your back and if you fall down, they pick you up. If you don't carry your load they […] get on your neck and say you’re costing us ballgames. I think that was the biggest thing.
After college, Mr. Hays was drafted by the Army as the Vietnam War was in full swing. Fortunately for Mr.Hays, he was accepted into a six year program with the Oklahoma National Guard. During his service, he went to law school and started working for Club Corp, an owner and operator of private golf clubs around the country. At the time Mr.Hays joined, ClubCorp was a small company and owned 6 country clubs across the country. Today ClubCorp. has hundreds of premier private golf clubs under management and Mr.Hays was instrumental in their rapid expansion. This experience would be formative in Mr.Hays' learning and development in business. It provided him with a blueprint for building and scaling successful ventures.
Mr. Hays: […] I became the national membership sales manager and then moved into corporate acquisitions and I was the head of all country club acquisitions for the last seven years of my eleven years there. And we grew from 6 clubs to 250. And my job was to buy country clubs. That's what I did. I felt like I got pretty good at negotiating and figuring out the business terms and all that stuff. […] When I joined ClubCorp the entire real estate industry was going through Jimmy Carter's deal and the interest rates were 16% and real estate developments were collapsing. It was a dying industry and the country clubs were absolutely getting slaughtered. They just were blown away. No one had ever tried to put a bunch of them together to get the synergies. The things that you can do in buying volume or running pro shops, buying a whole lot of merchandise all at one time for a bunch of different entities and we designed all of that and actually created an incredible company. So, I started at a bad time and developed it during that 11-year period into a really cool company and then it was in a good time. Which meant that it was getting harder to buy deals. It was getting harder to make good deals and we were even selling a few of the things that we were kind of struggling with. We sold them for great value, value greater than we paid for it. […] If you can't be a buyer, you need to be a seller in that kind of an industry. If it costs too much to buy, it's time to sell.
Parker: How did you set yourself up in the right position to purchase these country clubs?
Mr. Hays: Nobody had tried to put a bunch of independent clubs together. […] Every club still remained the local club. The key was to keep it local, but be big, and make them think that it was still their club. […] You don't change their club. So, [the notion was] you could make it better by being more efficient, more knowledgeable about what kind of fertilizers to put down, what kind of mowers to buy, what kind of carts you buy in bulk, that kind of stuff. And all of those savings, and increase in knowledge, the more efficient way you do things, created value that could be passed back to these clubs on a local basis. And we did that.
For several reasons Mr.Hays decided it was time to leave ClubCorp. in search of his next career opportunity. This would lead him back to Tulsa, Oklahoma working for a company drilling wells in the oil and gas industry.
Mr. Hays: And so, I left. I was on the board at ClubCorp, Senior V.P., doing great. 36 years old. I went home and told my wife I was leaving, and she went epileptic. "My God, what are you doing?" I said, “we're going to do something different.” So, we moved to Tulsa, and I even got a speeding ticket on the way up there with two babies looking out the back window. “Is daddy going to jail?” ...probably. We get up there, I'm up there for two years. That was 1981 […] and we drilled 77 wells in 2 years. These were deep wells up near Enid, Oklahoma in the deep Mississippi limestone and we were doing great. We thought we were rich and our little company had a private jet. […] I really thought we were knocking it out of the park. Well, I'm on the beach in Hawaii and my banker called me in January and said, "you're broke, did you see the oil prices today?" And I said no.” It just fell to $9 from $36, so get your butt home. You’re busted.” The company filed bankruptcy. […] I ended up being the guy that worked with the receiver, the bankruptcy judge, and represented the creditors against First Interstate Bank of Dallas, and I did that for about ten months. […] And, so I finished up with the bankruptcy thing and got it all cleaned up in a nice little package and I locked the building and I went home.
After Mr.Hays locked up the doors he was stuck in an unenviable situation: two kids, a wife, a mortgage, no job, and an economic quagmire that he called one of the saddest times he had ever seen. Most people would spend time beating themselves up, second guessing themselves for leaving a secure job and ending in an industry that had just bottomed out, but Mr. Hays is not most people. His ability to dust off his cowboy boots and get back out there is probably one of his strongest skills. With his back up against the wall, Mr. Hays went out to find his next opportunity.
Mr. Hays: I made a couple of phone calls and a friend of mine who has now been my business partner for over 30 years said, “Hey, I got an idea. […] I represent Arkla Gas in Little Rock, and you know what, they have a lot of money and they need to be buying some of these assets that are going under. Oil prices and gas prices are going to rebound someday, and you can go out and make some great deals and because of your experience in the bankruptcy court now, maybe you can do some good.” So, I went over and […] I interviewed with a guy named Mack McLarty. And Mack McLarty was Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff when he became president of the United States. And at that time, he was chairman of Arkla Gas in Little Rock. […] So here I am with Mack McLarty, who is really close to the Clintons, and so he hires me […] and he said, “Let's go buy some properties." […] Sure enough I made some really quality deals for those guys. But one of the deals that I found was a little compressor station in Holdenville, Oklahoma. […] It's right in central Oklahoma. It was a real low-pressure gas, oil kind of play. […] It was an environmental nightmare. And the guy that owned it wanted to get out of the business, and he wanted to sell this thing. It had huge potential to be cleaned up. […] So I took it to Mack McLarty and I said, "Mack, do you guys want to do this deal?" and he said, "Oh gosh no. We wouldn't touch that for anything." And I said, "Can I have permission to buy it?" He said, "Sure, you guys put it together, it's your deal." So, I did. And that was in 1985. And in 1985 the pipeline company [was born]. And it was one central delivery system in central Oklahoma and a low-pressure gas and not a whole lot of volume. We grew that in six years, that little central gathering system, into the largest independent gas gatherer in Oklahoma, and sold it to a large gas company on the East Coast. […] It was just by learning the strategy of buying clubs, drilling wells, being in a low dollar environment where everybody was going broke. [...] I mean it was getting blasted. I came into that environment, ended up buying lots of different assets, throwing them all together, tying them in, building franchises, […] and we built it into a very substantial company with a very good reputation and had a ton of quality people. And my whole theory in that company was you go out and you find the best of breed in every young person you can. I want them educated, I want them smart. And I don't want them to be locked into status quo because we're going to have to create this new computer environment which, because they had just opened up all the big pipelines and nobody knew how to do it, there was no status quo. [...] And we built a brilliant company. It was awesome. And at the end of the day I also had found a partner in Fort Worth, a guy named Richard Rainwater, who ended up being a billionaire on Wall Street. […] Rainwater, who was the most moral, knowledgeable, honest, upright businessman I've ever met and really smart in a different area. He was smart in the finance, Wall Street area. […] He bought out my partners, the little partners, for $6 million and he put up a $50 million line of credit for us to build out this business and we did. And we spent it. I couldn't spend it faster. We spent it and then we built this from a $500 thousand purchase value and we sold Mega Natural Gas for more than $100 million 6 years later. Think about that. Now that was fun, OK. I've gone from country clubs, to drilling, to pipelines. They put a five year non-compete on me, and wanted me out of the building the next day. […] Seriously, they wanted me out of the building.
Parker: What was selling your company like? Was it a high of all highs?
Mr. Hays: I didn't even think about it. Honestly, I didn't have any euphoria. I just knew that I still had a lot more things to do. […] They put a five-year non-compete on me including the entire energy complex. […] I took a deep breath and I said, “You know, I've won a couple state golf championships, I'll just go turn pro and […] I'll go play golf. I'll go get on the Senior [PGA] Tour.” And your dad, when I told him that, he said, “You can't beat anybody!” Can't you just hear Speedy? You can hear it right?
For more context, my dad, Speedy (yes that’s his name), and Mr.Hays have been close friends since college. Speedy played golf at Oklahoma State and on the PGA tour for a while back in the ‘70s. The odds of anyone becoming a professional golfer are slim. But what Mr.Hays was talking about was highly unlikely. With no college golf experience and 30 years in the corporate world, to try and make the Senior PGA Tour is incredibly difficult. The odds are remarkably low.
Parker: Yes, Speedy is the master of “motivation”.
Mr. Hays: I love him to death and of course we pull each other's chains all the time. But I worked really, really hard. I was 45 years old when all that happened, and I had five years to get ready. I turned pro at age 47 and started playing some mini tour stuff down in Florida and I actually qualified and got in a Nike event in [Joplin] which was really a joke because I'm playing against college kids. So, I get in there, obviously I don't make the cut, but I just kept getting better and I was working with a teacher named Jim Flick. I was working out every day. I had an exercise program. I had a health and eating program and I went from, let's say 195 pounds, to 175 pounds and I didn't have an ounce of body fat. [...] I qualified for two U.S. Senior Opens, and then I actually in 1999 earned my card full status on the European Senior Tour through their qualifying school. Then my dad got sick and I couldn't leave the country because he was going to die. I couldn't go play in the tournaments [because] he was going to die in February, and then he was going to die in March, then he was going to die in April, then he was going to die in May. He didn't die until August and bless his heart, he's a tough old cooter. And I just love him to death, but I wasn’t going to leave. […] I played two tournaments all year over there and then I just said you know something tells me I'm not supposed to be doing this. I just quit doing it […] things just never fell into place. […] The guys I'm playing against had 250 cuts on the senior tour and I'm in the boardroom. So yeah, I mean I was just too far behind. I could strike it as well as anybody I played with and I played almost with all those guys. I could hit it as well as anybody, but my short game just was not up to par.
Parker: Golf is a unique sport and the fact that your competitive years can extend out so long, the older you get the more skills you continue to pile up. […] That's what those guys were doing who were on the Senior PGA Tour. They had decades of competition, and chip shots, pitch shots, and unbelievable trap shots that you just probably didn't have.
Mr. Hays: I'd see them [short game shots] and I'd see stark terror. And they'd [competitors on Senior PGA Tour] see them and go, "Hey, I got this". And it is a mentality. But the same is true in business, Parker. And I think you know this. The more experience you have, if you're on the driving range and you're perfecting mediocrity, you're never going to get any better. If your swing, it sucks every time you make it, hitting more of it that doesn't make you better. If you're disciplined, and your technique is getting better, […] and every swing makes you better you're going to get better. You don't have to shoot your best every day, but you want your average to go up every day. You want your average game to get better and better until your average game is better than everyone else's. And that's what you want in business as well. And I think you earn that. Your reputation isn't given to you, it's earned. And your skill set isn't given to you it's earned in business.
After he ended his professional golf career, Mr.Hays made a few investments in startup companies. Most notably in a company called, Exostat Medical, which makes devices that prevents septic shock in ICU patients. After Mr.Hays received a second capital call he decided he must do some more research before committing more investment.
Mr. Hays: [...] I flew up there and I walked into it and I thought, "Oh my god. They have blown off $5 million and it's just gone." This thing's the dirtiest mess. One little scientist dipping what looked like a lure in a fishbowl. […] And his name is Kent Winger. And I said, “I'm Jim Hays I'm an investor. Do you mind if I kind of look around and talk to you a little bit?” He said, "Yeah, come on in." So, we sit down, and we talk. I said, “Tell me what's going on?” He said, "Well we've got this idea. This is a predicate device that we're trying to build over a deal that was built a few years ago and we're trying to make it better." And he said, "take a look at these old research papers and take a look at this market study that I've done and take a look at what the doctors have written about this." And I started on it and […] I read, I read, and I read them, and I thought this is kind of fascinating. […] And I just dug in. And I called some of the top critical care doctors in the world in the world. I called a guy in Brussels. I called a guy in Norway. […] And I just made a number of phone calls I called a guy at the major burn center down in San Antonio, because he was on one of the papers. […] And he said, "Boy, if you can build this that's fantastic. This will change critical care medicine." OK, I'll give it a shot. […] We've actually had this technology breakthrough. We had to build a clean room. We had to hire people. I had to put a business around this fishbowl. We've got a really neat setup, we've got a great company, and we have a great reputation. And we're followed now by a bunch of medical journals and all that kind of stuff. Over the last 6 years it's really changed a bunch and it's actually a legitimate business. […] I'll be 73 this year. I think that's helped kind of keep me young and I know it's kept my brain fresh. I used exactly the same business thought process. Whether it was country clubs, whether it was pipelines, whether oil and gas, whether it was bankruptcy workouts. Exactly the same format every time. And that is you over-prepare. [...] I wanted to know more about the people I was negotiating with. […] I wanted to know more about them than they knew about themselves. I wanted to know what their tendencies were. I wanted to know their history, their education. What their hobbies were. What their home life is. Because everybody has a deep-down interest that you'll never recognize. […] If you use that theory in your life then you can be a team builder. You can build. If you don't. You're going to get run over.
Parker: You talked about being over-prepared as one of those ways that helped you to jump through all those different stages in your career, life and competition. What other skills or abilities have you developed that have allowed you to create those opportunities? To be able to go from baseball, to law school, to the golf industry, oil and gas, and to the medical industry?
Mr. Hays: I think balance is one word. I've always had a theory of a four-legged stool and if you cut one of the legs off you fall over. I'm a spiritual guy. I have a great faith. I raised my family to be faithful people. […] You’ve got to prepare yourself for a really tough life. You have to be mentally strong, physically strong. You got to prepare yourself to live a quality life. You do that by stretching that big muscle of yours, that big brain. And you stay as healthy as you can, eat right. […] You got to be spiritual and you have to think about your health. Then you have to think about your family and your friends and who you keep company with. And if for some reason you're keeping company with people that you don't think are doing the right things you lose their phone number. Get rid of it! […] And then of course the other balance [has] to be your subsistence. I mean you've got to be able to pay the bills.
Parker: What do you wish you could tell your younger self to focus on so you could develop faster?
Mr. Hays: The one thing for sure is that we always try to find a fast track and easy way. There's no easy way. There is no fast track. There's no secret formula. You know the word work is a verb. And putting on clothes and going to work scares people. But I think that you got to grind. You've got to dig it out of the dirt. You know I would just say that as a young guy you read more than your eyes can handle. You read until your eyes bleed. And you ask questions and you seek out people that have done it before you. Just what you're doing. Ask why, and how, and when. What do I need to do and who can mentor me? But you just got to dig it out of the dirt. […] There's 2,000 years of brilliance on bookshelves waiting to be read. Read them!
Parker: You originally said your dad was not a risk taker. How did you develop that skill that your dad apparently didn’t have?
Mr. Hays: You'll laugh, but I think it's because I've said too many times in my life, "I don't think so." When someone said I'm going to whip your ass. I'd say, "I don't think so." And that was just kind of my attitude in life. […] And I don't know if I've considered it risk what I did, Parker. To me it wasn't risky because […] I mitigated the risk in my mind as much as I could. […] But again, I think it seems to me it was the ability to think small. Yeah. And over-prepare and then I would study human nature as much as I could
Parker: Your time at Mega Natural Gas, it sounds like it was such a quick run. Why did you eventually decide to sell it?
Mr. Hays: Do you remember the comment I made, if you can't buy you should sell? I was the chairman and CEO, and the guy that was the president was a former Conoco guy. He was our pipeline expert and I couldn't have done any of this without this guy. […] His name is Tim Jurek. He's still one of my best friends and we just created an unbelievable relationship. We played in a golf tournament, […] and before the last day we're in the bar having a martini. And Tim was telling me about a project that we were trying to buy, and he said, "Jim, it's just too expensive we can't do this deal. […] We can't buy anything." And I took out a napkin and wrote him a piece of paper and I said to him, "Here's what we're going to do about this." And I wrote down we're going to sell Mega. And he just looked at me. "What are you kidding me?" “No. We're going to sell it. If we can't buy anything and we're going to be stagnant for a couple of years. Let's monetize this thing when everybody's crazy. They're all nuts. They're paying more than it's worth in value.” He said, “OK, let's do it.” That was in November and we sold it the next April.
Parker: What advice would you give to an entrepreneur or business owner that's considering selling their company?
Mr. Hays: Building an organization, building assets is way different than trying to sell your assets. And I would say get the very best financial minds and investment banking group you can find. In every category you ever do as an entrepreneur hire the best of breed. Don't let somebody cut their teeth on your company. Pay a little more. Get the best of breed and just learn because you're not as good at selling as you think you are. There are people out there that are better buyers of businesses than you. You're not used to buying businesses, you're used to building businesses. There's a maximum time and the right time to sell. […] That's the thing that an entrepreneur has to recognize: what they're good at, what they're not, and what your built for, and what you're not built for. In order to get where you want to go, you cannot afford the people you collaborate with, you can't let their segment fail. You're better off paying a little bit more, you're going to get much more value.
Parker: What have you found to be the keys to becoming a great negotiator?
Mr. Hays: You've got to be terrified of losing. […] I was always terrified of losing. And non-success is not losing until you quit. […] And knowing the humans you are dealing with. Not necessarily the organization. You've got to know what he's dealing with and who else is involved even though they're not in the room. Is he reporting to someone that's a real jackass? Is this guy scared that he's […] going to lose his career? I just think it's all about human condition. Yeah. And you got to kind of be a warrior in that regard. You cannot let up. You just have to have to listen and if your mouth's moving you're not listening. And if you ask the right questions you're going to get good answers. If you ask bad questions you're going to get bad answers. Don't you think?
Parker: Well now you're putting pressure on the questions that I have asked so far. Hopefully I'm getting OK answers.
Mr. Hays: That should have been my first comment! I blew it, sorry.
Parker: How has an apparent failure set you up for a later success?
Mr. Hays: You know, it's funny. You’ll learn the most from failures. […] When you're going into things like startups, you better expect that every day is going to provide a failure or at least a non-success. I'm not going to say failure because failure doesn't occur until you quit. When you quit, it's a failure. It's non-success if you keep going and you try to find the adjacent possibilities around that non-success. […] To me, everything I've ever done in my life, including my marriage, including my children, including my faith, everything has been met with non-successes. […] If you fight one more round, you've got a chance to win. And if you foul one more ball off, you got a chance not to strike out.
Parker: The last time we spoke you talked about how the first oil company you were involved in went bankrupt. Would you consider that a non-success?
Mr. Hays: Yeah, if you're going to define the company that was a failure. And it was a failure outside of our own control, which is the worst kind because there's really not much way to overcome that. If you're told that oil prices are going to keep going up and you're placing your bet on that, and you're not hedging your bets. You just keep placing your bets and then it goes down. You're screwed. Your company's going to fail, but that doesn't mean the individuals inside of that company failed. [...] I will tell you that not one of those people in that company ever felt like they were going to be a failure in life when they left. Not one of them. And they were all successful after that. So, you can kind of take your hit and you walk out and do the best you can. And you try to walk out in an honorable way, and you pay what you can, and you do what you can to make it right for everybody involved. But then you got to get on with your life and you take those experiences and you say, OK, what did I learn from that and what would I do the next time to mitigate that kind of risk to avert that kind of disaster? What would I do? And you just keep building on that.
Parker: Did you apply strategies that you learned from the failure of the first company when you started Mega Natural Gas?
Mr. Hays: Yeah, we did. We brought in a partner, the Richard Rainwater Group out of Fort Worth, for that equity and risk. They put up the money and they put up the letters of credit for us to take that risk. And they would have been damaged, not us, had we failed. [...] They measured that risk and that was a good bet for them. They measured it and they said that's worthy. [...] Everything was transparent. We learned to lay that risk off. Now I can tell you in the deal were doing in Minnesota right now. That's not necessarily true because there's three of us that have put up quite a bit of money in this thing over the last six years. A lot of money. We took that risk, no debt, nothing else. But each of us knew that we could afford to absorb that and not totally destroy our lives. And we measured what we thought the outcome could be based on the probability of getting there and breaking these technical barriers. We actually sit down and talk about risk all the time, where are we on the risk curve? It's a very sophisticated conversation as far as risk goes. […] I will tell you this, if all you do is worry about risk, when you have a startup, you're going to fail. You got no chance. You would throw up, you'd be vomiting all the time. So really what you have to do is you just gotta buckle down every day and you say, what's the one thing I've got to do today to get me to tomorrow? And then tomorrow you look, what's the one thing I got to do today?
It's at this point in our second conversation where Mr. Hays gets warmed up. Much to my pleasure once he starts talking, he just keeps going. Prior to our conversations I sent him a few prompts on themes and questions I would like to discuss. One topic was goal setting.
Mr. Hays: I noticed in the thing you sent me last week that said, these are the questions I want to talk to you about, goal setting and creativity and all. And there's no goal setting. That's all a bunch of malarkey. Anybody that tells you that they planned out their entire IPO, their entire startup and all of that from start to finish, they're liars. That's not the way it works. Now you have a vision. And you know how many resources you have to apply to that and both money and time and people. But a timeline intersecting a creative organization. Burn it, because nobody ever meets a timeline in a startup. Nobody. You don't do it. It's impossible because it's unknown. […] The great PhDs in economics are savants on the past. They're idiots on the future. Because they're basing all of their models on what happened in the past and the things that bend the curve going forward are the things that they never envisioned. […] And that's the reason the big companies, they don't even have economists on the payroll anymore, because they never see the black swans. The things that really truly change the curve.
Parker: With Exostat Medical do you have a vision of the possible outcomes you would like to achieve?
Mr. Hays: No question. It's a vision. […] I'm 0 for 11 on timelines. I know it's pitiful. […] Trying to put together the business acumen, the timelines, the budgeting, the resources, the personnel, all the human resources, and put it into the creative environment, which I call a creative environment, where you got a couple of scientists in there that are really good at what they do, but they keep getting doors slammed on them and getting their nose busted by hitting walls, and saying to them, how are we doing on our timeline? They just want to start their hair on fire because their job is to do the thing today that can get us over the hump and the problem that's confronting us. […] Time is not even a measurement for an R&D company.
Parker: On that thought, when you're working with scientists or in the R&D space, how do you go about creating an environment that inspires and motivates employees?
Mr. Hays: […] Well, I think what you do is, you have them buy into the vision, and I remember an old saying that says, if you want to build the world's greatest yacht company, you hire people that yearn for the sea. And they'll build the greatest yachts. So basically, they have to see the vision. They have to see the picture in their mind of this device, in the mouth of a critical care patient with hopelessness in his eyes and sick as hell. He's the sickest of the sick. And this machine is telling a doctor that this guy needs help and they need to see that. And they need to see that every day. They don't need to see their bonus plan, they don't need to see any of that stuff that they have to buy into this vision that the work they're doing has an ultimate grandiose, solution to a world class problem. People are dying. 300 thousand people die a year, 25 thousand a month in the U.S. from sepsis. 18 million in the world. It's unbelievable how many people die from septic shock. We can help that. […] So, you set the vision, they buy into it. If they don't, you get rid of them. If they don't yearn for the sea, they got to be out of there because they're going to be more of a problem than a problem solver. You get your team together and then you get the best of the best in every category to pitch in. […] And then you create an environment where it's okay to be non-successful every day. You're going to be non-successful every day, but ultimately our plan is to be totally successful, so they got to understand that concept. And then as a leader, you set it up and you get the hell out of the way. And you just make sure that the money is there, you don't interfere, you don't confuse them, you don't put pressure on them that doesn't do any good. And you make sure that their mind stays fresh, and that you care about their families and you just got to love them to death. And you build this relationship where everybody's yearning for the sea.
Parker: How do you make it okay to screw up and have those non-successes?
Mr. Hays: Well, that's when you kind of get into rational planning, and thinking, and evaluation. We'll gather up in the boardroom and we'll go through all the alternatives and we'll go through all the options and we'll talk about it and then we try to brainstorm a little bit and go, “OK, status quo didn't get us here.” There's nothing about status quo that ever accomplished this plan. We've got to think outside the box a little bit here. What things do you see that are sacrosanct that may not be? Just for example, you always thought the electrodes had to be plasticized and stamped on this plastic thing. [...] What if we use freestanding metal electrodes? What if we use three electrodes instead of two? What if we raise the power levels? What if we turned it upside down? You play the game and then if you can't find enough reasons to not do something, then you try it.
Parker: What would your employees or colleagues say your biggest strength is as a leader?
Mr. Hays: You know, it's funny at each of these little deals when we have little celebration parties or whatever, and we've had a few of those. It seems like the common toast is, thanks for playing so much golf. Thanks for not being here as much. […] They make fun of me at these dinners because of some of the stupid things that I've said through the years that make sense to me and they're just rolling their eyes. So, I don't know. […] I think it's that I'm tenacious. I don't know, I just don't quit, and I love to compete.
Parker: May I give you a strength? I'm hearing it based on that story. Ultimately what it is, is you have trust. Trust in your employees and therefore you're not micromanaging. If you're a micromanager, that means you're showing me as an employee that you don't trust me. And no one wants to be playing scared.
Mr. Hays: Yeah. You know, I raised my kids like this, Parker. I said, “I'm going to tell you the rules, and they're going to be clear and if they're not clear, I want you to ask questions so that they become very clear. If you violate them, here’s the punishments. If you follow the rules and you come out on the other end, here's the rewards. And I'm going to make the rewards greater than you think they can be.” And I've told that to every person I've ever hired, I'm going to make a deal with you, that if you perform better than I think you can perform, you're going to have a better deal than you think you're going to get. And that has paid dividends to me because that's the way we work. Our little team, my three partners all think the same way. You reward the people that get to the goal line. And if you have a bad apple, you get them out of there because it's poisonous. […] I think you may be right. It may be trust.
Parker: What are some bad recommendations given to young professionals that you hear in the business world?
Mr. Hays: Don't worry. That's the worst. Don't worry. Be happy...bullshit! You know why you don't get skin cancer is because you put on sunscreen. You worry about it, right? We're built to worry. Worry about everything and solve the freaking problems. It just drives me nuts. If a guy walks into my office, he's a brand-new guy out of college, he goes, what's the retirement program? Hit the door! I don't even want to talk to you anymore. You know, walk in here and say, “What can I do to make this place better? What do I need to learn? How hard do I need to work to make you appreciate that I'm really trying hard?”
Parker: How would you suggest a young person with a business degree approach taking that step into his/her first career?
Mr. Hays: […] I would say again, it goes back to that whole concept that you have to have something that you yearn for. […] What kind of a lifestyle do you really want to live? And that includes where. Do you want to live in downtown New York City, or do you want to live in Seattle, or do you want to live in Dallas? What kind of a lifestyle do you think you'd like to ultimately live? [...] For me, it was always wanting to learn everything I can learn from guys that I respect. So, if I'm going to work for a guy, I'm going to bleed him to death. That guy is going to want to get my ass out of there because I'm going to wear him out. I want to learn. And to me, I would just say to anybody coming out, if he really hungers for growth to be better for that, you can find it anywhere, because that's a personal decision. You can find it. If you don't have it in your job, then it's up to you to get it in your off time. Get up early and read. […] My first two hours I’m either reading spiritual stuff or I'm reading business stuff. Early on when I was in the energy business, I devoured every book I could read on oil and gas. [...] And I just think you have to yearn for that knowledge. If you're going to be something special, then you better be special on your way up to being special.
Parker: Are there any books you could recommend?
Mr. Hays: I'm going to recommend that you read a book called The Creature from Jekyll Island and it's written by a guy named [Edward] Griffin. And it's about how the Federal Reserve was formed and it's a true story. It's about the bankers that were on the train down to Jekyll Island, [Georgia] and got together and put together the Federal Reserve System. It's fascinating, it's all about the, the Morgans, and the Rothschilds and all those people. […] It's a pretty thick book, but it's a great read and it will give you a real concept of how money flows in this country. The Federal Reserve's not a governmental arm. It's a privately-owned enterprise, outside of the federal government that set up to manage the flow of cash. And it was set up by these big bankers so that they could keep the banks from the west, from building strength when the industrial world started moving west. Fascinating story. And all the rules are still in place today. And then as a supplement to that when you get finished with that, and it is fresh in your mind, read the book called Fed-Up, by Danielle Booth. She was in the inside of the Fed in the Dallas Federal Reserve office. And she worked for a fabulous guy named, Fisher, and her story of how the Federal Reserve worked in one location just tops off what you'd read in The Creature from Jekyll Island. And I will tell you when you put that down, you will know how capitalism works. Now this is way beyond a business book. A Business Book by Jack Welch is going to give his opinions. This is historical fact and it's brilliant. And I'm telling you when you put that down, you will have an MBA in money flow. It's awesome.
Parker: All right, well maybe after I read those I’ll be flush with cash.
Mr. Hays: I hope so. At least you'll know how to steal it.
Parker: I'm sure you've had a lot of times of real intense work, but how do you create balance in your life between family, health, and work?
Mr. Hays: It's habit. I tried to form habits and […] I try to make them habits and I'm relentless. I worked out when I got off the airplane today. I just got on my treadmill here in my office. I keep my balances […] in four ways. My faith is first, my family is second, my business obligations are third, just because I've been given responsibility to be responsible and then my fourth is my health. Just making sure that I get on a treadmill, or I exercise, or I stretch four or five times a week, and I count points. I count golf as a half a point, I count the treadmill as a point, and then I count stretching and lightweights is a half a point. I try to get five points a week. […] I’m trying to figure out exactly what I was called to do and what things are left for me to do and a lot of that is guided by my faith. […] I’m involved in an international business leaders council to the Vatican. […] and I'm doing a lot of reading. [...] So, that's been a big part of my faith journey over the last 4 or 5 years. And then I get a really big kick out of this science innovation thing where I’m on the leading edge of technology and all kinds of stuff and that keeps my brain fresh. I do a lot of reading there and I consider that balance in business.
Parker: Can you give me the rundown of your first two hours of your day? What are you doing usually?
Mr. Hays: I never set an alarm. I have a built-in alarm clock within 10 minutes. Seriously, that sounds stupid. But I do. and I don't care where I am in the world. If I want to get up at 6:00, let's say in Brussels, I wake up at 6:00. If I'm on the road […] I get the Wall Street Journal and then I pick up the sports page […] I get a cup of coffee and I, if I'm in Minneapolis, I go to the office. I'm usually in the office at 4:30. […] So I read the paper, I check my emails and then I'll pick out something that I've been reading. Just for example, I just finished a book called The Fisherman's Tomb. […] I know for me, I can't wait to get up and read. […]. 3:00 pm I work out every day. It's my number. I don't care where I am. I work out. If I'm in a meeting, I'll excuse myself […] and I'll go put on my gym clothes and walk around a building or I'll get on a treadmill or I'll do something. I do it every day if I've got things to do with my kids or grandkids, I build all of that in. But I'm a creature of habit.
Parker: Well thank you for the time. This has been awesome.
Let me tell you, these conversations I had with Mr. Hays were life-changing. Much of our conversation had to be edited down because you simply can’t read over 3 hours of our nonsensical tangents in conversation. These tangents lead us into discussions about philosophers, politics, sports, but most notably there are 2 topics that stood out which I would like to cover below. These have nothing to do with unlocking habits and routines that will make you successful. They are just too interesting to not include in some way. The first section below is what I will affectionately call, Jimstradamus. Through Mr.Hays’ work with Exostat Medical he has been connected to some interesting scientific innovation around the world. The second section covers the time Mr.Hays financed a fictional novel and the process involved. Read on and enjoy.
Mr. Hays: A few very special scientists took me into their inner sanctum of sensor technology and I promise you the new world is in two places: it's below the sea and it's in nanotechnology in the miniature world. That's the future of mankind. It's not anything else. It's not outer space.
Parker: What do you mean below the sea?
Mr. Hays: Well, below the sea there has to be more species that are undiscovered then we have on Earth, on land. There's going to be solutions down there to things that they have no concept of what the solutions are. There's going to be a food supply for humanity to the end of time by just rearranging perhaps some of the atoms below the sea. All the minerals that we mine there down there. Everything that will ever lead us down there. The good Lord gave us a solution to every problem.
Parker: What I think is funny is how a lot of the environmental documentaries or news outlets focus on how we're just screwing up the world which yeah, could be. But we're giving no weight to how ingenious we are as a species to then overcome problems once they are presented to us. You're saying all the problems that we've had for 10,000 years are not valid anymore? […] Don't you think we can adjust and adapt and come up with new solutions?
Mr. Hays: Yeah, well if you think about it, man can't fly. We've got tiny little feet. We've got really weak muscles compared to the big animals. We're not the fastest. We can't live underwater. We can't live above 19,000 feet. I mean we've got a little bitty bubble around a little blue planet hurtling on a mud ball through space and we think we're brilliant. The only reason that separates us is cognitive thinking. We have the ability to look and say what, why, where, how. We have that ability. And any time a man can do that then he can figure out how to solve a stupid problem. OK now let me talk to you about what you just said. OK. The environmentalists talk about all of the greenhouse gases right. These scientists that we deal with have said to me by the year 2025 there will be 15 locations on this planet that fire rockets into outer space with billions of little bitty nanobots and a warhead that will be exploded in the troposphere. These little nanobots will gobble up greenhouse gases, everything other than water vapor, and will pulverize it and powder will fall all around the earth. All the gas around the planet will be gone in the troposphere within a matter of a week. Think about that.
Parker: I mean it's kind of incomprehensible at this point.
Mr. Hays: Again, in 2025 they say they'll have little bitty nanobots that can be injected into your blood veins. And those little bots that are microscopic […] they're going to go through and they're going to gobble up all radical cells. Diabetes, cancer, whatever. They'll gobble them up and you'll just piss 'em right out of your body. This is going to happen. […] I mean what's going on is crazy.
Parker: That’s amazing. It’s so funny because we just love to punish ourselves for all the problems we’ve created. We pay way more attention to the problems than the people out there solving the problems and the solutions they are creating. OK, well we know there's a problem. So, let’s divert attention away from the problem to now the solutions. And you know thank God that there are people out there that are doing that.
Mr. Hays: They are doing that. The people that are trying to guide you aren't trying to guide you. The environmentalists, they are trying to herd you. They want to put everybody into a box and give you a label. Mine and yours, Mike Tyson's, Bill Clinton, whomever our DNA is exactly the same. It doesn't matter what human being. There's only .01 difference in DNA in all humans. And that point one has caused wars and famines and it's crazy. It's just nuts but that's what leaders do that try to diabolically herd human beings. Yeah. And I think hopefully man will get smart enough. But if you go all the way back and start a program seriously, at your age, you still have time. Of reading Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, St. Augustus, St. Thomas Aquinas, what was written in the French Revolution the Renaissance. Read what half the books in the early industrial age. Read about the books you know that that all the way up through history what you'll see is that they were just unfathomable problems. And it was always the disrupter that overcame the status quo. It was it was always the guy that goes bullshit and he was hated during the time he lived. Yeah but then became a saint later on. It's history. Over and over and over and over. And it's going to it's going to continue. The child that's going to live to be 200 years old has already been born. I believe that. What's going on in medicine is just incredible.
MR. HAYS COMMISSIONS A FICTIONAL NOVEL
Back in 2012 while he wasn’t busy revolutionizing the medical industry with Exostat Medical, an interesting story and idea took hold of him that would eventually lead Mr. Hays to commission a fictional novel, ‘Don’t Mess with Travis’. I read this book in a matter of 3 days. It’s part political satire, part mystery, and part action novel about an unlikely politician, Ben Travis, that becomes the Governor of Texas and leads a movement to secede from the United States. It’s a fun, well-written, and clever read. Mr. Hays and the author, Bob Smiley, eventually went on a press tour for this novel with stops at Sean Hannity’s radio show and NPR. I suggest you check it out.
Mr. Hays: I'll just tell you really quick. In 2012, when Obama was elected, in April of that year, after he was in the White House for what, three or four months, the Tea Party was formed in Texas and it started out as a rally down in Austin. Governor Rick Perry showed up at that rally and he made a comment that Texas had the right to secede. And I did not believe that. I sat and listened to that and I go, “I think that's nonsense.” Nobody has the right to secede. So I started doing research. And I studied the Texas vs. White case and I studied all this stuff. In my research a story started forming in my mind. Bob Smiley, who wrote the book, was my son's roommate at Princeton. He's a writer in Hollywood. And he's a comedy writer and he's just an awesome kid. […] He wrote for four or five shows and he's done really, really well and he's actually, now he's a very high up writer in Hollywood. So I called him and I said, “Bob, I've got this story in my mind. And I've been making notes and I've been writing this stuff. I've got sticky notes all over my office. Would you consider writing a book for me?” And he goes, “I don't do family stuff. Sorry.” And he hung up! I called him back the next day and I said, “Bob, I've got this idea.” I did it for about 4 weeks. I just kept calling, “Bob. I've got this idea. You get your ass…I'm going to send you two tickets. You bring your wife.” He said, "Well, my wife can't come because of the kids." I said, “OK, I'm sending you one ticket. You come in here on a Friday night, you sit with me for four or five hours in my office here in Prosper. Let me tell you this story and see what you think.” So, he comes in and he and Rob, my son, come over, and so we sit in this office and I tell him this story and he goes, “That's fascinating. That's truly fascinating.” But he said, “I don't think I can afford to do that.” I said, “What if I paid you whatever you're making right now? If I pay you that for a year, would you take a year to do that?” And he goes, “Yeah, I'd probably do that.” So, I ended up getting four other guys to help me with this deal. Bob Tway, the golfer, a guy named Hayden Fleming, Robbie, my son, and one other guy, Rick Gordon, my partner in Houston. […] And I did that for a year and of course he was doing other stuff and we gave him a right to stop the book anytime. Let's say if he became a writer for Seinfeld. He could stop anytime he wanted to. So, we went through the whole thing. [...] That was so cool, Parker. For that year to be involved in all of that.
This interview has been edited and condensed from two conversations.