Video Transcript

00:09 Audience Member: What was it like when you realized you were not going to die when you landed on that... I don't know what you landed on, but the water. But what was your feeling that you were given back life?

00:28 Elias: I'm almost embarrassed to admit what I'm about to say, but I will. So, I was upset. I was upset with being bad because I thought I was... We landed and we skidded, and I looked out the little window, and I saw water, and it looked like a cruise ship. I'm like, "Oh, my goodness, we blew up into a bunch of pieces." I was this disoriented. I didn't know where we were, and I was upset we didn't blow up. And then, all of a sudden I realized, we're actually floating. So, the sense at that point, I think your brain changes into complete emergency mode, and it was about getting everybody off the plane and there were so many heroes, and there were so many great stories, but it was a bit of... Since I was so convinced it was over, it took me a good three seconds to realize that actually it was not over. Thank you for the question.

01:17 Audience Member: Are you scared to fly?

01:19 Elias: Am I afraid to fly?

01:20 Audience Member: Yes.

01:21 Elias: Oh, great question.

01:25 Elias: My wife jokes that I had the accident, and she had the post traumatic syndrome. So she's afraid of flying. I had this really interesting moment when that night... So, it was New York City, if you're gonna have an accident like this, I recommend New York City, they're well equipped for this. It was amazing, right? So, eventually like at 8 o'clock, five hours later, people are like going to hotels, driving buses, Amtrak, whatever it is, and they asked me and I said, "I wanna fly home. I wanna go see my wife and my kids. I wanna get on the same flight." And there were like five of us who flew that night. And for a second, I stopped myself, "Am I crazy enough to get on another plane?"

02:05 Elias: And I said, "You know what... " Here was my logic at the time, "If the next plane crashes, it was me who had to go." So, let's get it over with, right? If it crashes and I survive, Oprah Winfrey has competition.

02:25 Elias: And I got on that plane and I was still in shock. There was real shock. I remember, the next time I flew up to New York, I sat... This time I didn't get upgraded, so I was in coach. I sat in the first row in bulkhead, and I wanted to sit there because I wanted to watch the whole thing. I really wanted to relive it, and I had tears flowing as I watched the flight attendants do their thing, and just it was a surreal experience. But what I do now every time we hit turbulence, I use it to remind me of how lucky I am to still be here. So, I try to trigger a positive reaction out of something that I can go in and really dig in some real trauma, if not drama. So, thank you.

03:10 Audience Member: Are there reunions at all with the group? Did the group ever gather at all or [03:15] ____?

03:18 Elias: So the question was, are there any gatherings from the group? I have not participated in the gatherings more out of the couple of times they did it, I could not attend. My understanding is that there were two groups that formed that wrote books on it. So, there were invitations for people to participate in that and there's been some reunions. I have shared my story, really only with a lot of friends and family, and I felt the support there, so I did. And I run into a couple of people in Charlotte, which is where I live, and it's great. It's just you feel like you did something spectacular together, "I bought a ticket on the same plane."

04:04 Audience Member: Hi, thank you for sharing your story today.

04:07 Elias: I'm sorry. Where are we?

04:07 Audience Member: Over here.

04:08 Elias: Okay, sorry about that.

04:09 Audience Member: I just had a quick question, you said in 2009 you decided to let go and bring four people up into the ranks to be able to take over daily operations. How did you actually know that those four people were the right people, given that you thought you're actually better at what some of the things that you had to do and how did you go about figuring that out?

04:34 Elias: This is a great question. And that's why it didn't happen overnight and it took about six months because we wanted... There was probably a bigger group that was considered and we wanted to see who can step up into certain roles and responsibilities. We all... This particular individuals are, been in our system for a while. So, they know our risk management, how do we think about decision making and all that. So it wasn't like we're bringing anybody new. So, that was good. So, we knew the areas of development, so we became very intentional about getting them ready for that role. And I am not kidding when I say that they are capable of doing things I could have never done. So, while they continue to work on their own development, we just have a great senior leadership team. Yeah, thank you.

05:28 Audience Member: What has this done to your spiritual beliefs?

05:32 Elias: I'm sorry, I couldn't hear.

05:33 Audience Member: How has this changed your spiritual beliefs?

05:37 Elias: You know... Wow. Is there wine in the room?

05:47 Elias: How do I answer this? So, I feel very spiritual. I don't tell people that I'm very spiritual. I feel that I... Somehow, I connect it to something much bigger than me. And I feel a tremendous amount of energy out of that, if you may. And I think, without getting into the religious side, I don't... It was interesting. I was... Screw it, I'll say it. I was raised Catholic, so I always wondered what it would feel like when you were facing death and I had some interesting conclusions out of that. But for those, we need wine so...

06:38 Audience Member: You've talked about your [06:39] ____. Yeah. When you...

06:43 Elias: Go ahead. Go ahead.

06:45 Audience Member: When you had the accident, you talked about your realization about what the priorities are for you in the life and everything. Would you be able to do that when you started the business that you decided to really delegate things when you're starting a business, new business, would you be able to do that? I personally think, it would have been very difficult to do that. Once you have established a business, and then you can be able to delegate things. So, what's your thought on that?

07:20 Elias: Let me rephrase your question to make sure I understood it. You're saying, perhaps where we were in our time in our business, it was easier for me to re-prioritize versus in a start-up where it may be a lot harder. Absolutely. I think that, I wouldn't want to do a start-up again. You couldn't pay me enough. I did not like being in a start-up. Then I agree with that. I think in a start-up, you're the coffee-maker guy, the copier guy, the everything guy and you can't... You gotta go all in, all in at all times. The tricky question is, when do you make the transition? When do you go from minimizing downside in every decision to optimizing upside? To looking at things less about, "Do I need to be involved in this or am I better off letting it be 80% but opening up the funnel to more things?" But I agree with you, actually. I think we have time for two more.

08:26 Audience Member: So, it sounds like you were able to find work life balance and as a leader and CEO, you're able to define your own hours, but how are you able to encourage work life balance with your organization without affecting the momentum and the growth of the company?

08:45 Elias: That is a brilliant question. And I actually think that question, it's even harder for working mothers, as a general statement, that don't have working fathers or stay-at-home fathers. And it's a question that I feel a sense of responsibility towards. I gave my senior management team a book called, 'Choosing to Cheat'. And basically it says, "You're actually cheating on your family if you put them second." And the goal of that is, I wanna have a company where we can be efficient enough and flexible enough in our work style where people can achieve both. It is not an eight to five, nine to five job, but it can be a job where you can do it when you need to do it. Where we stole a bunch of pages out of Netflix and a bunch of other companies. We don't track vacations. We don't do a lot of things that are driven to a culture of freedom and responsibility, as they call it. And that has helped a lot. But I feel like it's something I still need to work on. I need to help our team understand it.

09:50 Elias: I actually, I spent a lot of time talking to Cheryl Sandburg about this the other day. And we were talking about, she's a big proponent of female leadership, and the pull that female leaders feel between being working, and then the responsibilities at home, and I think there's a lot more that we, as CEOs, can do about this and I intend to do increasingly more about it. 'Cause I ultimately want my people to be happy. I really don't care if we grow 37% instead of 42%. I could care less. Do we have time for one more?

10:37 Audience Member: A great story. And after all the sessions, I've seen with Lencioni, the trust and conflict, and there's a lot of people that don't know how to do conflict and don't know how to do these things, and then the gentleman, Ribbons, or what's his name? It's embarrassing. The gentleman that talked about the super rich.

11:07 Elias: Yes.

11:08 Audience Member: And he talked about... What's his name?

11:09 Audience Member: Simmons.

11:10 Audience Member: Simmons.

11:11 Elias: Yes.

11:11 Audience Member: And he talked about how he's always had a bit of a realization, through his meditation probably, and you fast-forwarded through an incident that happened to you. Now, all of these things are, I think, interesting from the stand-point that you can't get people to understand these things. It has to be internal and it's interesting to me, I've been a natural industrial-oriented person, very much an Ayn Rand fan, believe in selfishness not selflessness. In the sense that when you give for the right purpose, it comes back tenfold. As Simmons, Simmons?

12:11 Elias: Yeah.

12:12 Audience Member: Simmons said. And so, I think it's an interesting dynamic when you... How you came to the realization about how much your family meant to you, and how we're trying to build our businesses with the idea that our employees, and I don't have children. So, my challenge and interest has always been, how do I create the specialness in my company of employees? Where they feel connected, appreciated, valued, trusted, and depended. Being able to depend on them and them depend on me, and our leaders in the company. How do you, yourself, differentiate your... 'Cause you have a family, and how much you care about your family and the time you're taking to your family, to how, in today's world, how important businesses are in building that family culture within the company. How do you make that happen within your employee and within your business?

13:36 Elias: I really wanna make sure I rephrase your question.

13:44 Elias: I think you're asking, how do I differentiate between how do I think of my family and how do I think about my employees? Is that correct?

13:59 Audience Member: Meaning, it seemed to be a realization to you that you were taking time away from your family and how important they were.

14:07 Elias: Yeah.

14:07 Audience Member: But for me, if I were in your shoes, 'cause I don't have children, and you know...

14:14 Elias: I got it. I got it. I'm sorry. That's good. Good. I got it. I apologize.

14:18 Elias: Got it. Got it.

14:19 Audience Member: I mean, it's...

14:20 Elias: I'm from Puerto Rico.

14:20 Audience Member: I think it's... The key thing is the, how much you commit? How does that realization and that incident change you, or why didn't it change or does, did it change you or didn't it change you on how you focused also on your employees' family?

14:36 Elias: Got it. So, I think, we all gotta find what's important. I don't... There's a lot of people that don't have kids or kids are out of the home, or... I think we all have our own passions. And maybe your passion is your business. And maybe that's what's most important. Maybe your passion is your employees having that feeling that you have articulated. I think the question is not, are you being a good parent? The question is, what is it that is that important to you? And how do you, without a near death experience, mine was a plane flight, find out what that is? And I agree with you. It's very hard to live through someone else's experiences. But that doesn't make it impossible. My time is up. I thank you very much for your time.