Eric Doden explains the 3 C's of a powerful team
Eric Doden explains the 3 C's of a powerful team
In this episode, Tim sits down with Eric Doden to discuss his passion for economic development and regionalism. They talk about the importance of alignment and accountability across team members, as well as how the combination of character, chemistry, and competency make for a powerful team.
Eric DodenOwner/Partner, Domo Ventures
Tim Leman: Have you ever felt like you're on the edge of something great? You put in the work, you've done the hard stuff most people aren't willing to do, and now you can just sense a magical run lies ahead. This season, we'll talk to leaders across a wide variety of industries to learn what it's like to ride the edge and own it. We'll hear what separates those special teams from the more ordinary experiences. The kind, if we're lucky, we get to be a part of maybe three or four times in our life. Join me, Tim Leman, Chairman and CEO of Gibson, as we discuss leading on the edge. Welcome to The Edge Podcast. I'm your host, Tim Leman. On this episode, we have entrepreneur Eric Doden, founding partner of Domo Development. Eric is also a long- time economic development pro, holding roles as CEO of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., and president of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. So welcome Eric, I'm excited to have you on as our guest.
Eric Doden: Thanks, Tim. It's great to be here.
Tim Leman: Hey, tell our audience to start out with what is Domo Development and what's your role with Domo?
Eric Doden: Yeah, Domo Development, we are a, what you call a class A or luxury apartment developer. So we acquire property, we build, generally, about 12 buildings, 240, 260 units, and then we work with a partner that leases them up. So we are in markets of tertiary cities in the United States, especially the Midwest. We really like our Midwestern markets like Fort Wayne and South Bend, Elkhart, and even Grand Rapids and Holt, Michigan, which is really Lansing, Lafayette. So those are our core markets that we like to develop in.
Tim Leman: And why pick those markets, besides the fact you live in Fort Wayne, what do you like about some of those tertiary markets?
Eric Doden: Well, what we really like about them is they generally have stable and steady job growth, which really drives the apartment business. We like to think of ourselves as people that like to hit singles and occasionally hit a double. And so, the people that tend to want to hit home runs are going into emerging markets like Austin or Denver, but then you have a lot more competition. What we like to do is provide really great assets in communities that need it, but don't have all the New York or national REITs or developers chasing the deal.
Tim Leman: I can relate to that a lot even here at Gibson. We love our presence and office in Fort Wayne. Since I grew up there and all that too, I love it as well, but we kind of feel the same way. There's a lot of complex, important, sophisticated businesses in those kind of places, but the national folks aren't real interested in being there. And we can still know our clients in a local manner, but do the high- end work that they need, so that makes a ton of sense to me. So how do you compare some of that work you do in the investment space with Domo, with the work you've done in the past in economic development?
Eric Doden: Well, economic development is all about people. People drive your economy, people drive your city, your community. And so, when I think about developing apartments, it allows people that maybe don't live in your city or they're just coming from college and they're trying to figure out their next steps in their career and they don't know if they're going to be at that job for maybe more than one or two years. This gives them a great place to live while they decide what their next career move or what their life's going to look like. And then, of course, there's other people, especially if you're in the urban core, who have had their kids leave the house, and now they're looking for an opportunity to live downtown, so they can experience the downtown life that they've never been able to do, because they've had four kids or three kids. So we kind of feel like that we give this opportunity for people to experience their dreams while they still have a great place to live that's safe, comfortable, and feels like home.
Tim Leman: And how does that relate then when you're trying to coordinate multiple maybe counties or cities to all play ball together and do something big for a region on the economic development side of things?
Eric Doden: Well, Tim, as you might remember with Regional Cities, we traveled all over the country to study people who had done it really well. Places like Raleigh- Durham, Northwest Arkansas, which is Fayetteville. We studied Manhattan, Kansas, which is a smaller community, but these people had led the nation over 20 years in economic development. And one of the things that they all talked about is they saw their economy as a regional economy. In other words, they weren't focused just on their towns and their cities individually, they were focused on what was good for the entire region. And based on listening to these leaders, I became a strong advocate for regionalism. Because if you think about it, most of us, we might wake up in county A, but sometimes we're driving to county B to work and we don't really even think about it, it's just the drive, right? Because our jobs are 10, 15, 20 minutes away. So as South Bend goes, so goes Elkhart, as Fort Wayne goes, so goes Auburn. All these economies are dependent and important to each other. And so, I think from my perspective, if you want to have a very successful regional economy or region or city, you have to have a sense of the fact that you are a regional economy.
Tim Leman: As you guys started building out that concept, what were a couple of the biggest concerns on your mind of," Man, I don't know if this is going to work out?"
Eric Doden: Well, I think one big concern was we thought the private sector would show up and we kind of modeled it that they would be there for 60%, and then the state would be 20%, and local government would be 20. There's always a question, will the private sector take charge and lead in terms of some of these redevelopment efforts? And what we were blown away by and so impressed with is our private sector didn't just come with 60%, they came with 80%, and then it was 10% state, 10% local. And you just saw this total commitment to the community that just, I mean, we were just ecstatic with, because you just don't know. You can put together these programs, you can put together these ideas, but to see just the energy, the passion, the excitement out of the leaders of a community really was special to us in the whole process.
Tim Leman: What do you think was different or unique about Regional Cities that some of that collaboration finally worked versus past efforts where some of the communities couldn't get along and pull it together?
Eric Doden: Tim, I think you could probably understand this in business. When you're all working together on a deal and it doesn't close, that's deflating, it's disappointing, it's discouraging. And then when you're working on a deal that's really hard and then you get it done, that is invigorating, exciting, and motivating to the team. And I think what we saw this time was that because of the partnership aspect of state and local government with the private sector, everybody was able to come together and get deals done. And that deal getting done created more energy, and then another deal gets done and creates more energy. And then all of a sudden, people go from," Can we get a deal done," to" How many deals can we get done?" And the energy just goes off the charts.
Tim Leman: Yeah. As you reflect on it now, what's maybe one or two of the things you're most proud of that Regional Cities did, whether it's a specific project or a bigger theme? How do you look back at it now several years later?
Eric Doden: What's special to me as both a person who lives in Fort Wayne, which is a smaller community relative to a Denver or Nashville, and I love living in Indiana. I think it's special to live here, and I think Fort Wayne's a special place. I've lived in Valparaiso and that's a special place. I was born in Mishawaka. I've always had fond memories of South Bend and Mishawaka. But all these places to me are special in their own way. But what really, I think, was exciting to me is to listen to leaders in the communities talk about the community pride and how their kids and grandkids... I had people run up to me at church. And this is so special, they'd run up to me at church from time to time and just say," Eric, thank you for everything that you're doing, because my kids had been living in Chicago or had been living in Denver and they're moving back to Fort Wayne, and we are so grateful to have our kids home with our grandkids." Now, I don't know about you, but if that doesn't bring a tear to your eye and if that doesn't make you excited, not much will. So that's one of the things I'm probably really proud of is just the energy, the passion, the excitement around the community, and then kids and grandkids rediscovering their love for their hometown.
Tim Leman: Oh, that is cool. I love seeing some of our communities here, over the years, Elkhart and South Bend haven't always been on the same page with things, but it was really great seeing what Regina Emberton and some of the other local leaders did to pull these things together and just some tremendous projects that came out of that. And people having a lot more pride then in their place of work or home or whatever with some of the new buildings and everything else. I think we're seeing a lot of that cooperation even continue now with some of the COVID- related federal and state level grants that are being pushed out to not- for- profits and so on. Just a lot of collaboration that came, I think, on the back of the Regional Cities deals.
Eric Doden: Yeah, I agree.
Tim Leman: So what's the most difficult thing about lassoing a whole bunch of area leaders with different agendas and stakeholders with different ends in mind, getting them all on the same page, coordinated, saying the same thing? It's got to be a lot of work.
Eric Doden: It is a lot of work. It's also obviously rewarding when it's successful. But I think one of the things I really talked when I was CEO of GFW with our board was the importance of alignment. I kind of said it this way," Being aligned behind a plan that is maybe 80% of what you want it to be is better than being not aligned with the perfect plan." Now, the perfect world, of course, is you have the perfect plan and you're all aligned, but people have different perspectives, they have different viewpoints. I still talk to people that think that we should have built the ballpark downtown Fort Wayne, but there's still an occasional person that says," I still don't think we should have done that." It's like 1%, but they're still there. But more often what I hear is," I was against the ballpark, and now I was wrong and I'm 100% for it." And so, people see the power of alignment. And so, one of the things that we tried to do was make plans that were so big and bold, that we were sort of scared of it, and then that forced us to all work together to get it done. Because what we then did is went public with the plan, so that it forced accountability to get results. And then that forced us to be aligned, because if we weren't aligned, we knew that we were going to have a very public failure. And I know for some people, man, they're like," Why did you do that?" But I think for us, it really did help us be more successful and put accountability into it, right? If you're accountable for a result, you're going to work hard to get the result done.
Tim Leman: Eric, you're somebody is maybe known for being a driver or a stronger personality. When is it the right time to sometimes use honey and sometimes vinegar?
Eric Doden: Well, look, most of the time, I really believe in honey, and I think that's the best. But occasionally, there are certain leaders that make that very difficult to do. What I would tell you, Tim, is I differentiate between a leader who can take more criticism and generally somebody who's just trying to sort of have fun, raise their family. So when we talk about what you just said, honey versus vinegar, it's almost always within the context of on the board or in this organization where you have to have alignment. And there are a few people that sometimes got out of line, where the rest of the board was headed in a direction and sometimes you had to have tough conversations with those people to just help them understand that we can't have you out of alignment and here's why. And I'm sure that sometimes those conversations aren't always appreciated because they wanted what they wanted. But I also think that, as I told a lot of people, I know sometimes you may not like what I'm saying or even like my approach, but I want you to know I really like you. And just because we have a difference of opinion, doesn't mean I don't appreciate you as my friend.
Tim Leman: Yeah. To try to keep the issues as the focus and not make things personal.
Eric Doden: Yeah. I think there's a lot of situations in which people take their eye off the issue and put it to personalities. And I prefer to try to focus on the issue and let's still be friends when we're done, if we can all help it.
Tim Leman: Eric, we've been exploring the idea of teams this year quite a bit. So you've been on a lot of teams in the business space and probably some teams in whatever high school sports or otherwise, what's the best team you've ever been on and what made it special?
Eric Doden: I think one of the best teams that I've experienced was the Greater Fort Wayne Inc. team, simply because they were so passionate about their community. And we had a very diverse group of people, we had 20 people that were all over the spectrum religiously, politically, in almost every way. And to watch that group of people come together united around the cause of making Fort Wayne a nationally recognized economy was truly special. And also, the fact that they began to embrace healthy conflict. Sometimes in our Midwestern culture, I've lived it, I've grown up in it, we don't like conflict. We kind of think that all conflict is not good, but there is a concept of healthy conflict and where we're making each other better. And then there's unhealthy conflict in which we're just being unhealthy about yelling or at each other or whatever. We never really focused on unhealthy conflict. That team was really about healthy conflict and trying to make things better for the entire community. But I also think that there's three things we've sort of seen in teams that make them special. One is they have shared values. We call it character. They have shared values. They don't always agree on everything, but they have shared values. Then there's chemistry. That is they choose to figure out ways to get along. Rather than focusing on their differences, they focus on their passion and their energy and what they're doing. And then beyond chemistry, there's competency. And that is they're really dedicated to being very competent about what they do. And so, every work product they produced was excellent. Now, not everyone, Tim, no one is excellent all the time, but they really tried to achieve excellence in their work product. And when you combine that shared values, character with chemistry and competency, that's a powerful team.
Tim Leman: Yeah, for sure. Eric, you've got your hands in a lot of different things, involved in different things, you're running these businesses, investments, and so on. What are some tricks you've learned along the way to balance and blend your personal, family, business life, and perform at a high level in a lot of different things at the same?
Eric Doden: For me, personally, my marriage is super significant to me and really protecting and investing in that. And so, we found, Tim, over the years that when we go on quarterly date weekends, because I sprint so hard in a given 90 days that I need my time for three or four days with just Maci. And we just hang out, usually in a community somewhere that we love. And I bury the phone, I don't get on the computer, and we just date again. And we're just having fun, hanging out, catching up. And then, of course, you have these vacation times a couple times a year with your kids that are really special to me. And we really bury the phone and bury the computer during that time and try not to even be on it at all, unless there's an absolute like the house is burning down and we need to call the fire department. And then I think for me, also, that's been really critical for me is Sunday mornings being in our faith community. Where we're able to go, and sometimes you just need to go to a place where you're accepted, you're loved, and you don't have to be something. You're not a title, you're not a leader, you're just a part of a community that everyone loves you, they hug you, they tell you that they care about you, that they're praying for you. And we found that that Sunday morning is really important to us to be consistent with that. And so, that gives me so much energy during the 90- day sprints. I do basically four 90- day sprints.
Tim Leman: That's great. And then finding some ways to recharge and refresh being around your people throughout that. That's awesome. So final question before we move into the rapid fire round. What would you say is your edge in life? What gives you your edge?
Eric Doden: I tell you what, Tim, what my kids would tell you, that my favorite word in the English language bar none is grit. Grit is passion plus perseverance. And I have this sort of attitude that somebody has to tell me no 15 times before I accept no. And what I've found is that usually by the seventh time, they say yes. Now, that's assuming that it's good for them and good for everybody. I always tell my kids," It's not the early bird that always gets the worm, it's the most tenacious bird." And so, if I have a special secret sauce is I just don't know how to give up. So if you tell me something can't be done, for example, Electric Works, everyone said," Man, we're never going to be able to get that deal done. It's a$ 280 million project. It's just too big. It's too this, it's too that." That to me is sort of code for," Oh, we're going to double down and work harder." And so, that tenacity is probably my secret sauce. Now, I will tell you, Tim, that what you have to have are teammates around you that remind you from time to time that you are human and that if you don't take care of your health, get your workouts in, get your sleep, this is going to become a problem. So if I have an Achilles heel to this, it's the fact that sometimes I don't realize that I do have a limited amount of energy.
Tim Leman: Yeah. Sometimes you have to face you're human, right? So I can appreciate the grit and resilience and so on. Has there ever been a time where that's caused you to go too long, too far, and maybe it was time to move on or switch up?
Eric Doden: Oh, for sure. I remember two. And Tim, this is a little inside baseball, but if I see a note on my pillow, that's usually from my wife and that usually... I've seen it twice in 23 years of marriage. And that usually means that I'm going too far, too intense in something. So when I walk in the bedroom and I see a note in the pillow, I always think," Uh oh." And it's always gracious, it's always kind and loving, but it's also firm. At one time, I remember, Tim, it started with," Be careful." And if you know my wife, which you don't, but you will someday, Tim, she is a woman of very few, but very important words. And so, when I see that note, I'm like," Okay, I got to slow my roll. I got to back up here and check myself."
Tim Leman: And for your partners and those in the community around you, I guess that's also the secret way to get to you is maybe FedEx a little sticky note to Mrs. Doden and ask her to place it on your pillow.
Eric Doden: Wait a minute, you can't tell everyone this. They're going to figure this out.
Tim Leman: Well, we have an audience of at least 50 listeners, so your secret's out. No. That's great.
Eric Doden: But Tim, also I would tell you one last thing. I think a lot of life is being coachable and surround yourself with friends who are willing to confront you, even when it's not comfortable. And I've been blessed in my life to have phenomenal friends who will sit me down from time to time over a cup of coffee and say," We love your energy, we love your passion and we love you, but this needs to stop."
Tim Leman: Got to tame this a little bit here, you're wearing everybody out. No, I may or may not have had some people tell me that too, so I understand. Okay. Let's shift gears to rapid fire. This is always my favorite part of the show. We'll start with an easy one. What's your favorite color?
Eric Doden: My favorite color is blue.
Tim Leman: All right. What was your first car, Eric?
Eric Doden: My first car. It was a Chevette, it was a stick and it would barely move from first to second gear. Do you remember those cars, the Chevette?
Tim Leman: Oh yeah. Yes.
Eric Doden: After I found a car that actually could shift the gears, I was like," Oh, that's the way it's supposed to work."
Tim Leman: Yeah, those were not the world's greatest cars. One of my good friends' mom had one and he was just wickedly scared that he was going to be inheriting it in a couple years, but it didn't make it till he turned 16. So yeah, I know what you're talking about. Eric, what's the most memorable concert or performance you've been to?
Eric Doden: Oh, okay. Wait a minute. This is going to be all kinds of trouble. Okay. So my daughter at one time asked for tickets to Taylor Swift. I'm like," Okay, if we're getting you tickets to Taylor Swift, we're going with you, because I got to make sure everything's going to go okay." And so, I really went down, Tim, thinking that she was just going to be on a stool with a guitar and singing us songs. And I'm like," Why are we paying so much money for a person who's going to sit on a stool and play a guitar and sing songs?" And I mean, for two and a half, three hours, my jaw was on the ground, it was one of the most incredible shows. Regardless of whether you like her music or not, which I'm not a music person per se, but the show was unbelievable. And so, I would have to say, just put it out there that that Taylor Swift show just blew my mind.
Tim Leman: It is pretty incredible when you see some of those performances like that. That yeah, you really get a feel for the showmanship that goes into all of it.
Eric Doden: Yeah. And I totally, by the way, realized why I spent that much for the ticket.
Tim Leman: Yeah. If at least if you feel decent about it afterwards, then it worked. Eric, what's something about you that very few people know?
Eric Doden: Very few people would know that I was probably born in Mishawaka, and then very few would know that I grew up in Butler, Indiana. And so, what I find is that very few people don't know where Butler is. Butler is about 30 miles north and east of Fort Wayne in Indiana. And I grew up in a town of 2, 500 people. I loved it. We played sandlot baseball every summer day in some place in the neighborhood. And I really feel lucky that I got to grow up in small town Indiana. It was just a phenomenal way to grow up.
Tim Leman: As a Leo attendee, back when Leo was a lot smaller, I can remember being junior high basketball game at East Side Middle School in a really, really, really old building. You probably shot a couple buckets in there yourself.
Eric Doden: I went to basketball camps in East Side all the time, so yeah, I was in there all the time, Tim.
Tim Leman: That's great. Eric, if you could pick this, and there was a movie about you, what actor would play you?
Eric Doden: What actor would play me? Probably, I would have to say Tony Danza. When I was in high school, people used to tell me all the time," You look like Tony Danza." And I used to be like," What are you talking about?" But then I saw him a few times, I'm like," Oh, wait. I think they might be right."
Tim Leman: That's hilarious. Is that Who's the Boss or whatever, was that his show?
Eric Doden: Yeah, Who's the Boss or whatever show he was on. I could pick the easy one, which would be Tom Cruise, who doesn't want to be played by Tom Cruise. But I'll take Tony Danza just to be different.
Tim Leman: That's great. I like it. Three people you'd like to have dinner with?
Eric Doden: Well, my first and foremost, for me, would have to be Jesus. And part of that is because whether you think he's just a great philosopher or you think he's the son of God or you think he's a great teacher, he has to be one of the most fascinating people in history. Just the way he thought, the way that he taught, the way that he dealt with people, that would just be an incredible conversation. For me personally, beyond that, I'm going to throw one weird one out there that I would have been interested in meeting with Constantinople. I think he changed Western culture probably almost more than anyone else with the way that he reigned. And he kind of set up the West to be what it is. In some respects, I mean, it could be argued, debated, but I think it'd be fascinating to have a conversation with him and figure out why he did what he did, how he did it. More of a modern person that I would be completely fascinated by and able to spend unlimited time with, because his mind works in so mysterious ways, is Abraham Lincoln. His mind and the way he thought about things and the depth of his speeches and his writings, I could spend years with that guy trying to figure out how he thought and be loving it.
Tim Leman: I've listened through couple of different kind of biographies, and Team of Rivals from Doris Kearns Goodwin. And just some fascinating stuff, and so many failures along the way up front that really molded him into what he was. And then all the wisdom of when to slow play, let things work their way out, and when to take some serious action too. Yeah, interesting on all three. All right, last one. What's something big you want to do before it's all over?
Eric Doden: I would love to either be a president of a college or university and/ or a professor. I really get energized by 18 to 25 year olds who are in that mode of trying to learn as much as they can and they're just super energized and passionate about learning. And of course, it rubs off every time I'm around them, it rubs off on me. And I would just love to invest in them. But then also, frankly, selfishly, feed off their energy, especially late in my career where you realize like," I'm not going to have the same energy and the same impact." When you're older, I mean, things begin to change and we know this intellectually, even though emotionally we don't want to admit it. But I think being around that energy later in life and being a part of a team that impacts the future by investing and coaching and mentoring those people, but also experiencing them and their energy, would be super great way to end a career.
Tim Leman: Yeah, I love that. There's nothing like walking around on a college campus to get just a ton of energy. Just seeing everybody moving fast and all the enthusiasm and there's so much hope and promise, I think, too for people when they're in that stage in life about you can accomplish anything. So yeah, that's a neat one. Well, Eric, it's been awesome having you on today and really appreciate you taking a little bit of time to visit with us.
Eric Doden: Thanks, Tim. And this is a great show. I really appreciate your energy, your passion for Indiana, for our cities, and for what you guys have done in South Bend, Elkhart's pretty special. And thanks for your investment in Fort Wayne, really means a lot to me.
Tim Leman: Thank you for tuning in today. I'm Tim Leman. And remember to own your edge. Subscribe to The Edge Podcast on Apple, Google, and Spotify.