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Mentor Interview: Alex Lange

Alex Lange, Upnotch Mentor, is the CEO of Forbes Global Properties, a Growth & Profit Catalyst, an Executive Coach and an Internationally renowned Speaker and Author.

He’s held C-level roles at start-ups, venture firms, and public companies alike. A true mentor at heart, Alex believes his purpose is to help others succeed, especially entrepreneurs and their startups.

What is your superpower & why?

My superpower is maximizing hidden opportunities. It's looking at an entire problem or a business or an ecosystem - a kind of a CAT scan viewpoint. To be able to look at every angle and find things. Being able to see the opportunities, the solutions and see ways of solving problems that people traditionally wouldn't notice.

Have you had mentors before?

Yes, I have!

Tell us a little bit about your own mentors - who they are or what topics you like to cover with them?

I have had three different mentors in my life. The very first one was Captain Waiter. Right out of high school, I went straight into the military. He was my commanding officer.

Later in my career, my next mentor was Ian Morris, the CEO of House Values. He definitely stayed as my mentor long after we were no longer working together.

More recently, it's less of an individual mentor, but it's a peer group of people that I went to Harvard Business School with; we sort of formed a mastermind, but it acts in that same capacity.

With my very first mentor, I was 17 years old, I was smart but had a lot of bias towards action. I was young and irrational and he really helped me outside of military training. I was in a situation where I sat with him on a day to day basis in the same office, which is unusual and he really helped me think through structure, and planning, and having more objective thinking, versus just go, go, go, which is typically what a young person would do. I think that this sort of framework and that structure helped me throughout my whole entire career. Coming out of the military with that was really something that helped me get through college, get through life, get through jobs.

My mentorship with Ian Morris was interesting because I was there in my late 30s, early 40s. I was the CTO of the company, I ran product, I ran demand Gen. You get really good in that vertical or whatever your expertise is and he helped me think things through more strategically. More broadly, he was the one who helped me look at items and look for optionality versus the typical playbook of answers. He definitely would find six ways to solve a problem before he even attempted one. He would ask questions constantly, “What problem are you actually trying to solve?” It seems simple enough but if you do this all the time, and you do this every single day, you'll find there are so many interesting other answers. He is a Harvard Business School graduate, he pushed me to push my boundaries and sponsored me to go back so I ended up going to Harvard in my 40s.

The last one, the peer group, is super interesting. The topics are everywhere, we all have our own specific expertise. Those people are all very senior in their careers (VP, Senior VP, startups to huge multinational conglomerates). We meet once a month. We talk about all sorts of things like for example compensation for time off when you're doing family planning, husbands taking paternity leave, and how it works in America versus how it works in Spain. It's a really fun group.

Those are the three mentors that I've had in my life and in my career.

Tell us about a time a mentor has helped you accomplish a very specific goal.

Ian Morris was my mentor when I was working at Market Leader. After I left, my next role was CEO of Upstream. I had some interesting friction with the vendor that I had used for technology and unfortunately, that vendor was a division of the largest trade association in the world which is the National Association of Realtors. Ian really helped me think through the strategy of disconnecting from that vendor and restructure a new contract with a replacement. Most importantly, to do this without losing the political capital that I needed to push that initiative through. He was very good at helping me think through the problem from an outside perspective.

Describe a time when a mentor pushed you further than you thought was possible or accelerated your career?

My first mentor, Captain Waiter, who was my captain in the military, did it all the time. He was really good at seeing value in me probably more than I was. I had not gone to college yet, I was straight out of high school, but I was in this environment with him, where he was having me do work that was usually assigned to officers, people who have graduated from college. He taught me the mindset that I have now: I can accomplish anything I put my mind to with a plan with focused action and with tenacity. Having that push when I was 17 was probably one of the most material impacts in my entire career. I think that happens a lot with most people, you hold yourself back, because you're not sure you can do it.

For the second part of the question, how a mentor accelerated my career... Ian, who was my CEO at Market Leader thought through things like stair-stepping, which was for me a very huge push in my life. You think your career is in technology, so you start off as a developer, and then you're a manager, and then you might be a senior manager, director, VP, you're going up this trajectory, where at some point you have to decide where you're going to hop. I had an opportunity to take a very senior role, a CTO role at a very large publicly traded company. Ian knew that I wanted to become a CEO at some point. He knew the best way for me to do it, and to be able to not get in over my head was to stair-step down. I needed to go to a much smaller private company, then work my way back up again. So I've done that a couple of times in my career, and it really has helped.

Any advice that your mentor has given you that you would like to share with us today?

The advice my mentors gave me is to remove yourself from the equation and be objective because you don't know what you don't know. What I mean by that is, we all have our opinions, we have our experiences, and everything we do is sort of colored through that lens.

So when someone else does something that you don't agree with, or you think is not a great idea or a bad decision, you kind of wrap yourself around it. Taking yourself out of the equation and going “What am I missing?” “What am I not seeing?” There's so much that you just don't know so pull yourself out and try to look at it objectively. It is the best advice I've ever had, it transcends business and goes well in your personal life too.

What's the weirdest or strangest thing you've asked your mentor?

On a military base, you rarely see civilians. So this beautiful, young woman walks in, she's in our office area talking to some people. I remember going up to the captain and saying, “Who is that? I need to meet her!” not knowing it was his daughter. The “there's no chance you're ever going to meet my daughter” expression on his face was penetrating, to say the least.

If your mentors were listening right now and you wanted to express gratitude towards them, what would you say?

Thank you so much for helping me see the world differently! Having that ability to see it differently and to incorporate that information is huge, it's something that is important for mentees across the board. Also, them taking time and having my best interests at heart is something I will always be grateful for.

What makes a great mentee in your opinion?

Someone who one wants to learn and who is a good listener. A good mentee has to be willing to test and try, being able to challenge, push back a little bit. As a mentor I know that giving someone advice may not always be the exact right advice for them at that exact moment in time. Having the willingness to push back a little, to try to solve the fit, or at least talk about it, is super important as a mentee. I've mentored many, and I've had plenty of individuals who just furiously write whatever I tell them, lots of nods and lots of thank yous, but then it ends up being a bad implementation, or they just don't implement it. I think a combination of willingness to push back + ability to listen.

Why do you mentor?

I've had the privilege of working in various industries. I've been a C-level executive of a publicly-traded company. I've been a startup founder, I've done everything in between. I found that I'm a huge supporter of entrepreneurs and small businesses. I really like to help small businesses grow to be a medium-sized business. The thing you'll find, especially in startups, is that they have no go-to-market strategy and no understanding of their financials. I found that I can go to virtually any small business in about 45 minutes and find 100,00k. I can almost do it without a doubt, every single time. It's just things that are right in front of them that they just don't see. Go-to-market exactly the same thing. I’ll tell them: “There are three ways to grow a business: you get more customers, you get them to buy more frequently, or you get to buy more.” That's all there is. I like entrepreneurs, I love watching them learn and see the business grow. I love doing it. That's why I'm a mentor.

What does success mean to you?

At the end of the day, being able to look in the mirror and enjoying what you did today. Now, there are always good days and bad days. There are days you think the universe is just punching you in the face but you're still doing what you want, and you're pursuing your dreams. To me, that's success. I'm not a: I work real hard, make a bunch of money, retire to some beach. That will never be my life, I will work until I can't. Just because I like it, I love what I do. I think success is knowing what your objectives are going after them, being focused and feeling that sense of accomplishment every day.

What's the secret behind your success?

I still believe that there's nothing I can't accomplish based on my background and my mentors' teachings: Focus, massive action, and most importantly, evaluate, adjust and come back. You don't go in a straight line, you go backward and zigzag until you get there, but you eventually get to the destination. To this day, I still get up at 4:45 am every single day, weekends included. I'm at my desk by 6 am every day and I'm enjoying what I'm doing. It’s a 1% improvement every single day. I turned it into a game, “How much can I get done today?” That's my secret.


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