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Meet the Masters – James Vardaman PhD, Associate Professor and Nancy Allen Fellow of Management at Mississippi State University, Discuses Family Business and Entrepreneurialism

 

Trevor Chambers:

Hey, everybody. This is Trevor Chambers from Olde Raleigh Financial. And once again, this is Meet the Masters, a blog series where we talk to subject matter experts on wide-ranging topics. Today I continue with discussions about entrepreneurialism and family businesses and things like that with James Vardaman. Say hi, James.

James Vardaman:

Hello, everybody. Thanks for having me, Trevor.

Trevor Chambers:

Everybody. I don’t know if anyone’s listening, but anyway. James is an associate professor and a Nancy Allen Fellow of Management at Mississippi State University. He focuses on family business and entrepreneurialism, among other things, but I hear the Vardaman train is moving out and you’re going someplace. Where you going now?

James Vardaman:

Yeah. I’m moving to the University of Memphis in the fall. I’ll be a professor of management and chair of Excellence and Free Enterprise. So I’ll be doing more work on entrepreneurship. I’ll just be doing it a few hours north.

Trevor Chambers:

Well, fabulous. You’ll be having Memphis barbecue.

James Vardaman:

I will, I will.

Trevor Chambers:

Nice. Well, it’s so great to have you and I appreciate you taking some time. What’s your history, and how did you arrive now at the University of Memphis and this interest that you have in entrepreneurs?

James Vardaman:

Yeah. I mean, I actually have an undergrad training in accounting, and I worked in the accounting industry for a couple years. I just wanted to move into the management side, so I went and got an MBA at Arkansas State University. From there, I developed sort of an interest in research and answering bigger questions. So I went ahead and went on to get a PhD actually at the University of Memphis, where I’m returning for my new faculty job. I got my PhD in management with a specialization in organizational behavior in 2009. I moved to Mississippi State in 2009 and I’ve been here for 11 years. That’s sort of how I came to this place.

I developed an interest in entrepreneurship just because we’ve got a center here where they study family-owned enterprises at Mississippi State and just getting hooked up with those guys. Dr. Jim Chrisman was a key person in getting me more interested. I spent a lot of work over the years studying entrepreneurship in general and then in the family business realm in particular.

Trevor Chambers:

All right, very cool. What was your main mentor’s name?

James Vardaman:

His name’s Jim Chrisman.

Trevor Chambers:

Interesting. Cool. We like him. And you’re originally an Arkansas kid?

James Vardaman:

I was. I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Trevor Chambers:

All right. Little Rock. Okay, great. Mr. Clinton.

James Vardaman:

Yeah. He was my governor when I was a kid.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. Or maybe Hillary was, but let’s not get political. Can you talk about some of your research a little bit deeper and what have you found? I know that I would love to talk about family businesses and succession. What did you find and what was maybe a little bit counterintuitive about what you found?

James Vardaman:

Yeah. If you’ll allow me to be a little long-winded just for this question.

Trevor Chambers:

Hey. Listen, I love wonky stuff. You do whatever and go. Go. It’s great.

James Vardaman:

One of the big differences when people ask, “What’s the big differences between family and non-family businesses?” I think it’s easy to get sort of lost in the weeds sometimes. You got to understand, family businesses want to make profits just like any other business, but the big difference is, is that family businesses, what the research shows is that they’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of that profitability or some of it in order to maintain what we call socio-emotional wealth. That is basically a non-economic benefit you get from owning the business.

Some examples of that would be the family name has a strong reputation in the community because they’re, for example, you mentioned barbecue; they’re the barbecue restaurant. Smith’s Barbecue is the known barbecue restaurant in this town. So they get sort of a non-economic benefit, not just the profits that come from that but the family name being respected and having a good reputation. Another example of that would be because they have family control of the business, you can have a less qualified family member who needs a job and you can have a job for that person. Another thing is you can ensure that one of your children takes over the business. You’ve got something to give them later down the road.

Now, all these things bring positive benefits to the family, but they may not be the most efficient business practice. So you may sacrifice a little bit of profitability by doing this, okay. That’s one of the main foundational elements of what makes family businesses different than non-family businesses.

Trevor Chambers:

Okay.

James Vardaman:

That’s a pretty well-known idea in the family business literature. So you asked about some counterintuitive stuff I’ve found over the years. There’s a couple of things really that I’d probably talk about. One is I did some work where we looked at what happens when different elements of that socio-emotional wealth come into conflict? For example, the idea of having a good reputation in the community for the family business can come in conflict with hiring less qualified family members to do a job. When you have less qualified people working there, they may not do as good of work as someone from the outside, and so that could actually hurt their reputation. So those two things where you derive benefit could come in conflict.

I did a piece where we looked at how that would work, and we got some data from restaurant inspections. We found a couple of things. One was that family-owned businesses were more likely than corporate chain businesses in the restaurant industry to have a health code violation. So you have these public health codes. The health inspectors come. Family-owned businesses were actually more likely to have a violation. But interestingly, they were less likely to have a second violation. For example, if a corporate-owned chain restaurant had a health violation, they were much more likely to have a second,

What we discovered in doing the study was that the families would engage in things like hiring less qualified people or not having standardized practices so that they could do their own thing, but once that reputation was threatened in the community, they stepped to. They got on the ball and they fixed it. Whereas if you got a health violation in a non-family-owned business at a corporate chain, there’s some underlying problem there that’s not going to be easily addressed. Because the workers there don’t identify with the corporate name, and therefore the violation isn’t as salient and doesn’t raise their hackles as much. I thought that was a pretty neat finding. That shows how that sort of socio-emotional wealth focus drives what family businesses do. I thought that was pretty interesting.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. That’s really interesting. I also think it’s very interesting that… Well, let me ask you this. So the burn essentially of being embarrassed forced change or resulted in changes that were more lasting inside the family business because, “You guys, we can never let this happen again because it’s going to tarnish the brand.”

James Vardaman:

Exactly. You’re going to tarnish the family name.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah.

James Vardaman:

Tarnish the family name, right. That was the key thing is they were more likely to have one because they were doing things that helped family members out or something like that. It gave them the autonomy to do their own thing, but once the family name was threatened, then it was, “No, we’re going to step to it and we’re going to do things… We’re never going to let this happen again.” That’s exactly right.

Trevor Chambers:

Very interesting. You articulated it right there. It makes complete sense. Yeah, obviously a corporate, I don’t really care about this big corporate thing. What’s it doing for me? It’s a little more distant.

James Vardaman:

Yeah, exactly. I mean, I’m sure the workers at this place don’t want to have health violations, right?

Trevor Chambers:

Right.

James Vardaman:

I mean at corporate places. But there’s not that extra little bit of incentive to fix the problem. If you’ve got some kind of culture problem or bad management or something like that, there’s just not that extra level of incentive of the family name being threatened to bring about the change, like you said.

Trevor Chambers:

Interesting. Is there anything else you want to talk about about that? I can go on to-

James Vardaman:

Yeah. I mean, well, I talk about another study. If you talk about counterintuitive findings, I did another study and we were looking at non-family employee turnover in family businesses. This is an issue because again, because of this socio-emotional wealth focus, there’s a perception sometimes that non-family members who work at family-owned businesses may not have the advancement opportunities or they might be treated a little worse. There’s all kinds of assumptions there that make turnover potentially more of a problem in family-owned businesses, especially if they get larger, because they’re going to employ more non-family people. And so you’re going to worry about retention a little more there.

I’ve done some research in my career prior that weren’t necessarily on family-owned businesses that suggested that friendships helped keep employees in the fold. So my theory in family businesses was that identifying with the organization or in other words, feeling like an employee’s a part of the company, having that identification with the company, with the family-owned business was going to be really important for retaining those non-family employees. What I expected to find was that friendships with family members who also worked there would be really important in fostering that identification and potentially keeping those non-family employees from quitting their jobs.

Counterintuitively, what I actually found was that friendships in general were important, whether they were with family members or with non-family members. Friendships with family members did matter. They predicted retention and identification a little bit more strongly than friendships with anyone, with other non-family employees of the firm, but it wasn’t a big, big difference. So really, what I found there was that in this case family businesses were a lot more like non-family businesses than one might expect. So I think employees just want to feel a part of the place whether it’s a family business or not, and that’s going to help retain them.

That was a key insight because it’s a place where, and this is not always the case, where family businesses can take regular management practices and apply them and it’ll work. I mean that doesn’t work for everything because of the issues we talked about with in the prior study, but in this case employment practices and things like that with non-family members a lot of times will work in a pretty similar way for retainment.

Trevor Chambers:

In other words, maybe some of the more successful family businesses employ that sort of strategy into their everyday operations like, “Hey guys, we got to run it like… ” In other words, they got to run it like a business. It can’t be run entirely like a family and there’s proof that supports it.

James Vardaman:

Yeah. I mean, and in this case really I think what the takeaway was, was if you treat your employees well and make them feel like they’re part of something, it doesn’t matter if it’s a family business or a non-family business or if they’re collaborating with family members or non-family members, it’s going to work. It’s not a situation where they have to be family, family, family. It’s just make them feel a part of the company, I think is the more important takeaway.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. Got it. Along those lines, how can family businesses attract non-family talent? Because especially in succession, mom or dad in the next five years want to go. They want to go into retirement, but junior, either the daughter or the rising son or whatever, does not possess all the skills. Now you want to attract some more management to back up, so what’s your thoughts on that?

James Vardaman:

Yeah. Will Tabor and I wrote a piece in Harvard Business Review online that sort of addresses this. This is the place where family businesses can struggle at times, which is attracting highly qualified non-family talent, for those reasons that I talked about. And that is, highly qualified people, people who are talented who you want to manage your company also have ambition. And if they feel like, I’ll use your word, junior is going to be the one ascending to the top no matter what, a lot of times that can be sort of demotivating, a demotivating factor for people to want to join a family firm.

The approach that we suggest is to actually try to find people that fit with the goals of the family. So there’s a lot of research that shows that even if you don’t have the most talented employees, if they’re all on board with your mission, they understand your goals, and they buy into your values, that you can gain a human capital advantage even through that even if they’re not necessarily the “most talented” potential employee you have. What we’ve advised is that you signal that you have a really good atmosphere for working, this family-like atmosphere. That the business seek out people from sources where they’re going to find that.

One thing that we highly advocate for is by using referrals. If people don’t know what referrals are, a situation where you’ve got someone already working in your firm who is leveraging their network to refer a person to come in to take a position. Instead of running an ad-

Trevor Chambers:

Why is that? Is that just an inherently stronger tie?

James Vardaman:

Well, there’s multiple reasons. First is the likelihood is that the person that’s referred, because they have a relationship with the existing employee, is going to understand the values. Like I said, in the family business, understanding the values and buying into the values is really important, and so you’re going to get that. More generally, if someone within your company is referring another employees, there’s going to be some skin in the game. So in other words, they’re going to be less likely to refer that person if they don’t think they’re going to do a good job. So you’ve already got sort of a screening mechanism in place.

The big thing is, remember, in a family business you’re looking to create sort of a situation where your employees share your values, identify with what you’re doing, and are on board with your mission. Whereas in a big corporate situation in a non-family business, you might be looking for the most talented person regardless of any of that. Their skills at the job or whatever are the most important thing, whereas in a family business you might care a little more about their buy-in with your values, their buy-in with your mission, things like that. You’re going to be more likely to get that if they’re being referred to you by someone who actually understands those values and understands that mission.

Trevor Chambers:

Yep. Makes sense.

James Vardaman:

I’m not saying that that should be the only way they look for them, but I think that’s a practice that should be drawn upon more often in a family business.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. Instead of going out and getting a recruiter and all of that.

James Vardaman:

Exactly, exactly. Exactly. Sometimes you can’t avoid doing that. I mean you’re going to have use a recruiter for certain things, but you want to draw upon the referral process more often and when you can.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. I also think, don’t you think… Excuse me. The interview process, you really got to have that synced up. Let’s say you do get somebody in from a recruiter. I mean are those types of people that maybe even would apply for those jobs? Do you think they just lend themselves to working for smaller family businesses anyway, kind of align with that generally? I mean of course depends a little more on the labor market, of course, but-

James Vardaman:

Yes.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah.

James Vardaman:

But that was the point that Will and I were getting at in that piece, which was yes, they might come work for you, but are they coming to work for you for the right reasons? Are they going to be happy? Are they going to stay? That’s the broader consideration. They might be technically somewhat better at the job, technically, especially if it’s a job that requires technical skills or whatever, but is it still a good personnel decision? Because they’re going to be much more likely to be a flight risk. They are likely not going to be as happy, things like that. So our advice is to recruit people on their fit with your values and your mission.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah.

James Vardaman:

You got get someone from an ad. Nothing wrong people out searching for jobs through ads. I mean, I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. But that person wants a job. They need a job, which is understandable, but if you’re trying to find someone who fits with you, you’re much more likely to get that if you’ve already got prior knowledge of the person and you get someone vouching for their fit already.

Trevor Chambers:

Yep, yeah. Because I mean ultimately, but maybe especially for family businesses, continuity, that’s the key. Because when you think of family businesses, I just think of almost like a rock. It’s been there for 40 years. It’s been there for three generations or whatever. That continuity is so important no matter who’s in the driver’s seat in terms of management.

James Vardaman:

Yeah. The whole competitive advantage for those firms is that they have strict congruence to their values. People know what they’re getting from the firm. They know they have integrity. They expect that. So you have to protect that in your hiring and your selecting of employees. Like you said, like in the interview process or any other selection measure you’re using, those need to be in line with your values and with your core mission.

Trevor Chambers:

Let’s say you are the matriarch, patriarch of the business. I mean every situation is different, but pragmatically speaking, how many years should you dedicate to succession planning in terms of you, matriarch/patriarch, exiting at least to some degree the business? What do you think is a reasonable amount of time, all things being equal, that you would want to invest?

James Vardaman:

I’m not trying to cop out.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah, go ahead.

James Vardaman:

But I don’t have a number of years, but I will say I think there’s really three important things that family business owners need to think about in terms of succession planning. If I were to pick three, this is the big three. One is obviously start thinking about it before it’s on the horizon. Although I can’t give you a number of years-

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah, that’s fine. Yeah, yeah. I’d rather it be that way. I’m actually a little embarrassed I positioned it that way.

James Vardaman:

No, no. They need to start thinking about it before it’s on the horizon. One thing that I’ve seen over and over is they just don’t think about it until health starts getting bad or it really is almost there, and that’s the wrong time to do it. You should start thinking about it before it’s on the horizon. I’ve done some consulting work where helped people with the succession process, and one thing that we started using was something called stretch assignments. I don’t know if you’ve heard of these, but it’s where you take people outside of their functional role and get them involved in bigger picture projects that impact other functions or the company as a whole.

So say someone’s working in accounting. They might be a potential successor to take over the whole firm, and they’re working in the accounting department. You get them on a cross-functional team with a couple of people from some other functions, from marketing and operations or something, to do a new product development or to reconstitute the reward system for salesmen or something like that. We call that a stretch assignment because we’re stretching them out of their comfort zone and getting them into a big organization-wide project where they work with people from other functions.

That serves really two purposes. One is it gives them exposure to the whole company, which they need. Because a lot of times when people are in their functional area, they don’t get to really see what’s going on outside of that area. Two, it allows the current leadership to assess this person’s readiness and their fit with the leadership position. You say you’ve got a couple of your children. You want a family successor. You’ve got a couple of your children working in the company. Get them out of their functional role and get them into a position where they’re on a team cross-functionally doing something different, and you see if they can handle that role, if they do a good job in it, if they have leadership skills. And it gets them exposure to the rest of the company. That’s a big thing that-

Trevor Chambers:

I like it.

James Vardaman:

… companies do.

Trevor Chambers:

Write that down, kids. Write that down, kids. I like it. Go.

James Vardaman:

The last thing, we see this a lot, is avoid choosing an heir apparent. This might sound a little sexist, but a lot of times, for example, a man has founded this farm. He’s built it up. He wants his son to take over, right. So he chooses his son as the heir apparent, but sometimes the son might not want to do it, or he might feel forced into it. It might not be the role he wants. You just eventually run into problems both if the son goes along and does it, it doesn’t work out. Or when he decides he doesn’t want to do it the last minute, you’re left in the lurch.

The advice we like to give is avoid choosing an heir apparent. Put all your children into this situation. If you’ve got other children working in the business or other family members working in the business, it’s your right to want to have a familial successor, but don’t necessarily key in on one person. Put them all into the stretch assignments, see how they do.

There’s a famous case. I mean, I didn’t actually work on this, but it’s called Buchanan Transport. It’s a company in Australia where the founder was determined his son was going to be the successor and yet his daughter was absolutely doing a great job in the business. And he just kept overlooking her, while the son didn’t actually want to do it. Finally, it took them years and years and years of frustration before he finally realized, “Oh hey, my daughter should be the successor.” That can happen, and so don’t choose an heir apparent. Leave it open. You could have a smaller choice set of people, but don’t choose an heir apparent. Work your process. Use your stretch assignments, and find the best person to take over. It may not always be who you think it is, and so you shouldn’t choose an heir apparent.

Trevor Chambers:

I like it. I’m going to say five years. I’m going to say if you’re getting ready, five years, because that’s going to take five years.

James Vardaman:

Five years minimum. Yeah, five years minimum.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah.

James Vardaman:

I mean really, I don’t want to sound like a company in Japan with a hundred-year plan, but I think five is the minimum.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah, I would say too. That just dovetails into what I do. Myself and my firm, we’re wealth managers, so we talk to people. Our whole job largely is talking to people about their future self. As they say, as the old adage goes, “Sir, when you pass, do you want your wife who’s mourning you hunting for a financial advisor? Let’s get a plan.” You know what I mean? Because you don’t want that, and it’s the same thing with family businesses. I think most pragmatic business owners, family business owners understand that, but I love it. Those are really pragmatic points of view.

Trevor Chambers:

All right, we’re going to switch gears. We’re going another direction here. I want to know, what is Professor Vardaman studying now? I heard something about narcissism and entrepreneurs in my deep research into you. What’s going on?

James Vardaman:

Yeah. We’re looking at something really interesting. I have a doctoral student. I’ll go ahead and give her a plug here. Victoria Antin-Yates is her name.

Trevor Chambers:

Excellent.

James Vardaman:

We are looking at what I call the narcissism paradox, and I’ll explain what I mean by that. In entrepreneurship is what I mean. The reason I call it the narcissism paradox is you go to any mainstream website and you’re going to see an article about how hard it is to deal with narcissists. Narcissists are toxic. Narcissists have bad relationships. They alienate people, et cetera. But when you turn around and look at successful entrepreneurs, I don’t have their psychological assessments, but I can see by their behaviors and the way they act and talk that there’s a lot of narcissists who are successful entrepreneurs.

Where the paradox comes in is entrepreneurship is all about relationships, getting funding, acquiring funding, dealing with different people, dealing with different stakeholders. It’s a very relationship-based thing in that startup phase. So we’ve seen all these people be really successful, yet they clearly have narcissism issues. What we set out to do was look at to try to understand this narcissism paradox and look at what’s going on. What process is going on that’s allowing these people who are narcissists to have this success?

We took what we call a network approach. We tried to look at their networks. We surveyed different people in these entrepreneurship groups. Just to back up a little bit, there’s a lot of these networks around the country. Even in Raleigh, you guys have one where entrepreneurs get together. They have a club where they get together and they might do business together. They might get ideas from each other. What we went out and did was surveyed entrepreneurs who were members of these groups, and we got the other people to rate them on their level of narcissism, so people who knew them. Then we looked at who they were friends with, who they did business with, who they got referrals from. And then we actually got their revenue numbers from the entrepreneurs. We surveyed them on their revenue numbers.

What we found was that the way the narcissists were succeeding is they were very strategic in who they got into relationships with. They filled what we call structural holes. And what that means is they would find different groups of people who were not connected to each other but needed to be. So referrals for supplies, for supplier relationships, for things like that. Our findings suggested narcissists were really good at filling these gaps between different groups who weren’t connected. In other words, yes, narcissists don’t form strong relationships necessarily. They may not be the best being friends with them, but they were strategic in the relationships that they formed. That was what was giving them this advantage to make them successful.

I think that’s pretty neat. We have not published that anywhere yet. We’re still writing it and sort of working on the data, but the preliminary findings pretty strongly suggest that they engage in relationships to get ahead. So where a person like me or you, Trevor, we sort of forge our friendships based on who we like, who we get along with, those types of things, what our findings are suggesting is that narcissists form their relationships based on how they can use them to get ahead. That’s the big factor why they’re so successful.

Trevor Chambers:

So that’s their currency.

James Vardaman:

Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to go too far in my inferences that I draw from it, but I think it suggests that narcissists sort of treat relationships, even friendships, in a way of what can it do for me? How can it get me ahead? That’s something that most people don’t do.

Trevor Chambers:

Yep. And it makes sense. If you don’t mind me asking this, why you looked at their network and their network effect? What was the instinct? If you don’t mind me asking, why did you go… And maybe you’ve already answered this, but I’m sure there are a lot of factors you could’ve studied about that. But what made you zero in on that?

James Vardaman:

The biggest reason that we went down the network road for this study is because of what I said earlier, which is the reason… So where the paradox comes in is that entrepreneurship’s a relationship-driven thing in that startup phase, right? I mean you need referrals for business. You need to acquire people who have funding for your business. That requires fostering relationships. So our thought process was that that’s going to be the place where narcissism’s supposed to hurt you the most, right?

Trevor Chambers:

Right.

James Vardaman:

I mean narcissists have toxic relationships. People don’t want to be around them. We wanted to resolve the paradox, and so we took this network approach because we thought it would help us unravel what was going on and understand how narcissists were being successful despite a lot of the… We see everywhere that narcissists are bad.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. Almost like an antisocial behavior they leverage.

James Vardaman:

Exactly, exactly.

Trevor Chambers:

Really interesting. I wonder if it’s a survival technique. Who knows?

James Vardaman:

Well, just with anything else, I mean I think narcissism and Machiavellianism are sort of connected. I mean there’s a correlation there. I mean, I think it goes with this idea that they’re going to intentionally leverage relationships. A lot of people leverage relationships, but they more intentionally leverage relationships to get ahead.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Interesting. So there’s more to narcissism in business. They’re not just talking about themselves all the time for show there. There’s something going on. I like it.

James Vardaman:

Yeah. I mean, well, clearly there’s a relationship. I mean, I do presentations on this, and my first slide I have 20 famous, famous entrepreneurs. I have ranging from Steve Jobs to even Elizabeth Holmes, the Theranos woman. That’s all fallen apart for her, but the point is we see it every day. I mean these highly successful entrepreneurs also have this narcissism. You can’t turn on a cable news channel or a business network without seeing some report about narcissism is bad.

Look at Psychology Today’s website, narcissists have bad relationships. Yet somehow they’re highly successful in this entrepreneurial world, which is relationship driven. It’s a really interesting thing. I mean, I feel like this deserves more study than it’s gotten because clearly something is going on where narcissism is working for these people, but nobody really knows how. Our study’s sort of a first attempt to explain it.

Trevor Chambers:

Well, going back to family businesses, a lot of narcissists run family businesses. Then when they hand it off, are the people that come in behind them, do they have enough of that to continue on dad or mom’s narcissism? You know what I mean?

James Vardaman:

Yeah.

Trevor Chambers:

That kind of folds back into what we were talking about earlier.

James Vardaman:

Yeah, yeah. I’d almost like to see a stuy on what effect does having a narcissistic parent have on a potential manager of a firm. I mean that’s pretty interesting. You’ve given me a good idea.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. James, I’m just inventing stuff right there. See what I’m saying? I mean, I’m becoming a narcissist right in front of you right here. You know what I mean?

James Vardaman:

Yes. It’s a really interesting thing to think about. I mean it’s something that really hasn’t been explored. I think you’ve given me another idea, which is maybe the narcissism is why these people don’t want to let go as well on the succession planning. I see it all the time that they don’t really prepare until they’re almost at the end, and it might be because they’re narcissistic, they don’t want to let it go, that kind of thing.

Trevor Chambers:

Just because yeah, they’re controlling, but that’s what makes them great. What’s interesting though is, and I think you know this intuitively too, I think also those types of people, if they learn to not only let go but scale the let go, they actually can become amazingly successful, because you have to. Because if you don’t let go sometimes, you can’t get up above it and look above the business and around the business to see the next opportunity and the next relationship you’ve got to make.

James Vardaman:

Yeah. That’s absolutely right.

Trevor Chambers:

You know what I mean?

James Vardaman:

Yes, absolutely.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. Anyway, those are just huge words I’m just throwing out. I have no idea what I just said. Anyway, all right. Well, I love it. You know what we’re going to do? Maybe in another six months, a year, we’ll circle back. You’ll have done research and we’ll have a new thing to talk about. I’m very excited. But this whole area of narcissism, I love it. Thank you.

Last but not least, well, not last but not least. We got a couple more things. Any words of wisdom? Anything else that you’re looking at? Anything else that might be of interest and words of wisdom with maybe family business or narcissists out there?

James Vardaman:

Yeah. I mean, so I’ve got a lot of research going. One thing, this is not related to the prior two topics, but I think it’s something that I’m finding that I think is really cool and really important. I’m sure a lot of your listeners are interested in their own personal success, success management, things like that.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah.

James Vardaman:

One thing I’ve been looking at is how people work most effectively or what makes people really effective. I know the word’s out that multitasking is out and all this stuff. I’m finding just in some anecdotal studies I’ve been doing is that, especially when you’re doing creative work or project work, which I think a lot of professional roles go into now. I mean we’re not really doing these fixed tasks anymore as much as we used to. Giving yourself long stretches of time I’m finding works really well for success.

I’ll give you an example. In my world, I write articles. I do studies. I analyze data. I write articles. Scheduling myself from one to three, putting a cap on when I have to stop can be really, really counterproductive for me. Because when you’re doing creative work, inspiration doesn’t always strike. I mean a lot of times you’ll sit and sort of hammer away, and nothing’s really happening. And then all of a sudden you have that spark of inspiration and you have it. You get in the zone. Well, if you set yourself up and hey, I’m stopping at 3:00, you lose a lot of that productive time, and you may not have it when you start back.

So the word of wisdom I’d give from my research on managers would be if you’re doing a big project that requires creativity, don’t schedule stopping points. Stop if you feel like it, but give yourself time to run because that spark of inspiration, that spark of productivity, you may not be able to turn it back on when you start back if you stop. I like to just, and my wife doesn’t always love it, but I’ve learned here where, if I’ve got it going, I’ll just keep going. I’ll keep going until I just get really tired and have to stop. That’s something I’d really like to share with a lot more people because I think it really works. I’m starting to observe it in other people when I do some stuff in the lab.

Trevor Chambers:

Interesting. Do you have a lab there?

James Vardaman:

Well, I don’t have a lab, but we do labs.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. That’s what I mean. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

James Vardaman:

We’ll recruit participants.

Trevor Chambers:

Interesting.

James Vardaman:

And you’ll put them in computer labs and things like that. I don’t have a lab in the sense of I’m wearing a white coat or-

Trevor Chambers:

Right. Of course, yeah. No, no, no. I understand. Okay. This is kind of an interesting thing. You come up with ideas or grad students come up with ideas, and I’m sure many ideas to study, right?

James Vardaman:

Sure.

Trevor Chambers:

Then you hone it and then do you find a research partner, typically a grad student or a PhD student? And then you two or maybe three hone a good idea down? I mean how does that typically work in that? Excuse my ignorance on it. My father was actually a professor, but I never really… But he didn’t do any research. He was at the community college level for 43 years. Yeah. Typically, just quickly, take me through that process. How do you arrive and then how do you execute?

James Vardaman:

Sure. The idea can come from anywhere. We just came up with a couple of ideas just in our conversation here, right?

Trevor Chambers:

Of course.

James Vardaman:

I mean the idea can come from something you see. A student can bring it to you, whatever. It can happen. When you have the idea, generally what you’ll first do is go read the literature that’s related to the idea just to make sure that there’s already not been studies out there that have the answer already. Once you’ve done that, then you start thinking about how you want to test it. Is it appropriate to recruit people to be in a lab, or is it something you need study actually in a business, something like that.

From there, you go into… You get approval for your study from the review board. You find a company. You find out what you need to do for them to get them to let you sample their employees, things like that. Do the study, analyze the data. See if you found what you thought you found. If you didn’t, you revise your expectations, whatever. That’s sort of the process. I mean it can be me with students. It can be me with another person at another university if they’ve got expertise in the area. It could happen a lot of different ways. It’s very organic, actually.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. Cool, cool.

James Vardaman:

It’s really fun. I will tell you this, it’s a really fun profession. I really enjoy it.

Trevor Chambers:

No, yeah. It sounds fun. Again, I love hearing about it and getting in the weeds with it. All right, I’ve got about two more questions. What are you reading/podcasting/Netflix? And then is there any shout out you want to do in terms of restaurants from where you are, where you’re going, where you were?

James Vardaman:

Okay. Okay. My favorite podcast is Tim Ferriss, and he wrote The 4-Hour Workweek. I guess that was published in 2004 or something.

Trevor Chambers:

All right.

James Vardaman:

He has really interesting guests on and they range from topics from your diet, exercising, work productivity, startups, startup investing. He covers the whole gamut for a guy like me.

Trevor Chambers:

Got it. Perfect.

James Vardaman:

It’s really interesting. I’ve learned more about things like burning body fat. Learned a lot from listening to that podcast about productivity tricks, and from the entrepreneurship world he’s got some ideas. He’s been a startup investor. Learned some interesting things about approaching investors, things like that. It’s a really interesting podcast for a person like me, probably a lot of your clients as well, a lot of your listeners. I really love that podcast.

Trevor Chambers:

Oh, that’s cool. Now that I see his face, I actually, obviously, brought him up here on the Google, and he does look familiar. So, cool. Go ahead. You were going to say something. I didn’t hear it.

James Vardaman:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. The title of the book, The 4-Hour Workweek, he really doesn’t advocate that you work four hours a week. I mean this message is to try to get yourself in a position where you can have time to work on the things that are really important instead of having to through your routine tasks. Part of his thing is we spend a lot of time on routine tasks every day. That keeps us from doing the big things we want to do to be successful. Yeah, I just would add that. I think that’s really neat.

Trevor Chambers:

Awesome.

James Vardaman:

Reading, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on personal success, actually. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the thing I talked… my words of wisdom on how to make yourself most productive since that’s kind of a theme I’ve been looking at. I do a lot of reading about narcissism and entrepreneurship as part of my job. My fun reading is looking more at personal success, personal productivity, how to get the most out of my day, things like that.

Trevor Chambers:

Cool.

James Vardaman:

Netflixing, I have been watching a show on Amazon Prime called House of Lies. It’s about management consultants. It was on Showtime, I think, back in the middle of the decade. It’s a little rough language wise, but it tells a pretty interesting story about management consulting, which I think it’s pretty fun.

Trevor Chambers:

Oh, cool.

James Vardaman:

Watching a World War II documentary on Netflix. It’s a nine-part series. It’s been pretty interesting.

Trevor Chambers:

What? Is it Ken Burns?

James Vardaman:

I don’t know. I’m not sure.

Trevor Chambers:

Okay.

James Vardaman:

I haven’t done follow-up work. They cover a different thing that happened in World War II, a different event in every episode.

Trevor Chambers:

Okay, cool.

James Vardaman:

It’s more about Midway. And I had no idea how important that battle was, how devastating it would’ve been if the United States had lost it, so it’s really neat. There’s one about when they found the camps in Germany, which was very sad, but it’s been very interesting. I did not have as much knowledge of World War II as I thought I did.

Trevor Chambers:

You know what? Do that one and then do Ken Burns. Of course, he did Civil War and he did Jazz. And he did Baseball, but his World War II is unbelievable. You got to check it out.

James Vardaman:

Yeah. I’ve seen his Baseball one. I did not know he’d done a World War II one, so I’ll check that one out.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. Of course, The Civil War, that kicked it all off with him, but that was amazing. Yeah, check that out. Then last, any shout out to some local food, some places that you may have been getting some to-go over the past several months?

James Vardaman:

Yeah. Restaurants are opening back up here now, finally.

Trevor Chambers:

Good. Yeah. I was about to ask, how’s everything going on down there about COVID?

James Vardaman:

Yeah. It really, just knock on wood, it hasn’t been too bad. Mississippi has not had too bad of a time. I know that’s a little… I don’t want to be insensitive because people have lost their lives or whatever-

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah, of course. Yeah.

James Vardaman:

… like New York or wherever. It’s not been too bad. We are reopened with social distancing. Been able to go back to the gym, which has been great.

Trevor Chambers:

Oh, wow. Wow. Big.

James Vardaman:

Yeah. Local restaurants here, one that every time the college football, ESPN comes for a game, they talk about one called The Little Dooey. It’s a little barbecue place.

Trevor Chambers:

Oh, nice.

James Vardaman:

A lot of people like that. Give a shout out to The Little Dooey.

Trevor Chambers:

Nice.

James Vardaman:

A couple of places I like, there’s a restaurant group here that owns a couple of restaurants. One is called the Central Station Grill. It’s in what used to be the train station.

Trevor Chambers:

Cool.

James Vardaman:

I like their food a lot. Another place here is called Harveys, which I think it’s become a little bit of some sort of a North Mississippi chain, but it’s also very good. I like the steak at both those places.

Trevor Chambers:

Cool.

James Vardaman:

They have very good lunch sandwiches.

Trevor Chambers:

Nice.

James Vardaman:

Big shout out to them.

Trevor Chambers:

All right. Now in Little Rock, where was the family place in Little Rock? Because, I know you’re a Little Rock kid. What’s still there?

James Vardaman:

I don’t know. I left Little Rock when I was 18.

Trevor Chambers:

Oh, okay. Okay, I got you.

James Vardaman:

I don’t know. I don’t know. My mother still lives there, of course. This is not going to be local flavor or whatever, so this is not going to be much of a shout out.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah, no. It’s fine.

James Vardaman:

She lives around the corner from a P.F. Chang’s. We eat there a lot when I go visit.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah, of course. Yeah. Yeah, that’s good.

James Vardaman:

That’s not exactly giving them local flavor.

Trevor Chambers:

We’ll throw it at them. Hey look, P.F. Chang’s has been open. You know what I mean? That’s one thing, through this whole thing they’ve… I must say, they do a heck of a job with their to-go system. I mean it is like clockwork, so I will throw that out to those guys. I think they’re a great operation.

James Vardaman:

Yeah. I need to-

Trevor Chambers:

It’s sort of a-

James Vardaman:

I do want to give a shout out, this is another chain. I’ve gotten a lot of to-go from Buffalo Wild Wings, which has been nice.

Trevor Chambers:

Oh, good. You like your wings.

James Vardaman:

At my duplex, there’s… So we’ve been frequenting there a lot.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. They do a good burger there. Hey, how do you like your steak, by the way? When you’re grilling it, do you grill at the house?

James Vardaman:

I do.

Trevor Chambers:

How do you like your steak? What cut of steak and then how do you like it?

James Vardaman:

I like rib eye steaks.

Trevor Chambers:

Nice. Bone in?

James Vardaman:

Bone in, yes.

Trevor Chambers:

Nice.

James Vardaman:

You can’t always find those here. But yeah, bone in if I can get it.

Trevor Chambers:

Right.

James Vardaman:

I’ll do it medium.

Trevor Chambers:

Nice.

James Vardaman:

If I’m doing it at home, I’ll err on the side of medium well a little bit because I don’t trust myself.

Trevor Chambers:

Cool.

James Vardaman:

When I’m at a restaurant and I’ve got professionals, I’ll do medium. If I’m at home, I might err on the side of cooking it a little bit more because I don’t trust myself.

Trevor Chambers:

All right.

James Vardaman:

Yeah.

Trevor Chambers:

That’s great. Yeah, I love it.

James Vardaman:

Yeah. I love them.

Trevor Chambers:

I’m working on trying to get, and it may not work out, but I’m trying to get either a CEO or somebody high up inside of Big Green Egg to do a podcast. One of my firm mates, Blake, is very much into grilling and smoking, and he tailgates here with the NC State Wolfpack. Grilling is important. You have to be able to do it.

James Vardaman:

Yeah. I know you’re asking the questions, but have you guys tried grass-fed beef?

Trevor Chambers:

Of course, yeah. Yeah. I actually prefer, personally, I like grass fed and then finished in the last three days in grains because I like a little bit more marbling, personally. But, yes. So I’m sure, yes, I do love them, of course. Yeah. I assume you like that?

James Vardaman:

My wife likes it. It’s pretty lean.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. That’s the problem.

James Vardaman:

I sometimes am like, “Hey, I just want some regular from the grocery store.” Because my wife gets a shipment every month of grass-fed meat.

Trevor Chambers:

Oh, I see.

James Vardaman:

I like them, but every once in a while I want a little more fat. So I will-

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. Exactly, exactly. Exactly. Yeah, it’s good. But it’s an amazing country that we have the options.

James Vardaman:

Yes.

Trevor Chambers:

You know what I mean? I mean, and especially noting the date, we’re in June here of ’20, and COVID-19 is rampant. Even in the midst of all this, of chaos, I’ve never not been able to get a steak. It’s just incredible. You know what I mean?

James Vardaman:

Yeah.

Trevor Chambers:

We live in an amazing country. We really…

James Vardaman:

Yeah, we do. We do, we do.

Trevor Chambers:

Let the word go out, Professor Vardaman likes his bone-in rib eye medium off the grill. I like it. So, duly noted. Well, listen. Hey, I had a great time. I really, really did. And if you don’t mind, I’d love to review the tape and maybe do this again sometime in the future. I loved your insights.

James Vardaman:

Absolutely. Any time.

Trevor Chambers:

Yeah. When you get this narcissism thing fleshed out a little bit more, I think we should talk more about it. I think it’s really, really interesting. I think you’re going to uncover a lot of cool stuff.

James Vardaman:

I’d love to. I’d love to. Just let me know.

Trevor Chambers:

Absolutely.

James Vardaman:

I enjoyed it.

Trevor Chambers:

Awesome. I had a great time. Well, listen, you have a wonderful weekend. I hope you get the sun down there. Stay safe, and we will be in touch, all right?

James Vardaman:

All right. Thanks a lot, Trevor.

Trevor Chambers:

Awesome, brother. Thanks a lot, man.

James Vardaman:

All right.

Trevor Chambers:

Bye-bye.

James Vardaman:

Bye.