Harvey Kanter, President and CEO of DXLG and author of ‘Choosing To Lead’.
Harvey Kanter is the CEO of Destination XL Group, a specialty retailer of men’s big and tall apparel. He’s brought his unique and thoughtful approach to CEO, President, and Executive Vice President roles at companies like Blue Nile, Michaels, and Eddie Bauer. His book, Choosing to Lead: Being Comfortable Being Uncomfortable, details experiences that have shaped his leadership style and forged his resilience. Harvey will share how he builds outstanding teams, as well as what he looks for in an authentic leader.
Listen to the podcast
HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDE
- Why good leaders are comfortable being uncomfortable (3:02)
- How Harvey helped shape the hiring strategy at Eddie Bauer (7:42)
- The “hire for attitude, train for skill” mindset (9:07)
- Hiring “failures” (14:59)
- How COVID has transformed the workplace (17:06)
- The importance of communication in leadership (21:33)
- How Harvey interviews and evaluates candidates… (25:32)
- …and red flags he looks for (29:25)
- Harvey’s thoughts on the future of retail and e-commerce (31:09)
SHOW TRANSCRIPT – HOW I HIRE PODCAST WITH Harvey Kanter
Roy Notowitz: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to How I Hire, the podcast that taps directly into the best hiring advice and insights. I’m your host Roy Notowitz, founder of an executive recruiting and leadership consulting firm called Noto Group. My team and I have spent the last decade helping to build iconic consumer brands, one hire at a time. Visit us at NotoGroup.com to learn more.
Today, I’m talking with author and executive Harvey Kanter. Harvey is the CEO of Destination XL Group, a specialty retailer of men’s big and tall apparel with operations in the U.S. and Canada. Harvey’s been a leader throughout his career, having held CEO, President, and EVP roles at companies like Blue Nile, Michael’s, and Eddie Bauer. In his new book. Choosing to Lead: Being Comfortable Being Uncomfortable, Harvey shares a collection of pivotal thoughts and experiences that have shaped his leadership style and forged his resilience, including having battled and survived cancer. We’ll talk about how Harvey’s perspective on leadership has evolved throughout his career, and he’ll share some key insights that he draws on to build outstanding leadership teams, as well as what he looks for in an authentic leader.
I met Harvey about 10 years ago at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, and at the time he was the CEO of Moose Jaw Mountaineering. Ever since we’ve kept in touch and it’s a pleasure and an honor to welcome him to the show today. Harvey, thank you for joining us.
Harvey Kanter: [00:01:40] Thanks for asking me to be here today.
Roy Notowitz: [00:01:42] It’s a big undertaking to write a book. So I’m curious, what compelled you to write it and what kind of leadership book is it?
Harvey Kanter: [00:01:49] Interestingly enough, I actually thought long and hard about writing this book. I did think I had somewhat of a story to share, but honestly, I didn’t really have, as you said, the time to sit down and pen it. Until I actually moved forward through the Moose Jaw sale and took some time off. And at that point I was cajoled almost by a friend and a colleague and ex-business associate who observed me in leadership roles, and she really strongly urged me to consider writing the book. And truth be told, it wasn’t as hard as I thought. And one thing led to another and because it really wasn’t what I would call a one, two, three leadership book, or certainly not an academic piece, I was really sharing life examples and what I would think were insights that were worthy as an engaged leader who looked, listened, and learned about others, it just happened to come pretty naturally. And it was a lot of fun.
Roy Notowitz: [00:02:40] Yeah. It was a fun read. The stories were really authentic and the observations and learnings that you shared were really packed with usable leadership concepts and quite frankly, a lot of common sense that I think those who choose to lead can benefit from. It was really interesting, easy to absorb and fun to read.
Harvey Kanter: [00:02:58] You know, in reality, it’s the title and subtitle of the book. I truly believe leadership is a choice and I believe when you choose to lead, at times you are either subconsciously or implicitly making a determined decision to be comfortable being uncomfortable. And it sounds like a cliche, but it really isn’t. Leadership is uncomfortable at times. At times there’s not a right or wrong decision and there’s a decision to literally speak up, engage, take risks, to be honest, being vulnerable, potentially making mistakes, but being out front and facilitating and that, you know, involves really pushing yourself to places that many people are just not comfortable.
Roy Notowitz: [00:03:42] The title makes total sense. Can you share an example to demonstrate that concept?
Harvey Kanter: [00:03:47] The reality is at times people want to do things. And my favorite example is the example that I used in the book where I was at Arizona State as a freshman. And as a freshman, I was in a large class, a 101 marketing class. And in that class, there must have been a thousand people, and that class and professor had basically an M.O. that said, “if you have a question, come down after class and ask me, or if you’re fine, raise your hand and I’ll call on you”. But in a class of a thousand people with a bunch of freshmen, no one is willing to raise their hand and look silly. I was one of those people that raised their hands and asked a question and thought there were a thousand eyes looking at me. You know, as simple as that may seem, it’s actually an example in my mind, of leadership, just being willing to put yourself out there.
Roy Notowitz: [00:04:37] So I’m guessing that some people have an innate willingness to put themselves out there as a leader, like in your example, however, what are some other indicators of emerging leadership capabilities that you’ve seen within your team?
Harvey Kanter: [00:04:49] Well, I think that there’s two elements. One, in my mind, and you don’t have to be a leader, but being curious and inquisitive begs you to ask questions. And it’s when you ask questions where you learn, grow, evolve, but you also demonstrate a vulnerability, you develop the reality that people will look at you and say, “what’s he asking?”, sometimes you might actually ask a question, I’m not going to say stupid, but ask a question that seems obvious but it wasn’t obvious to you. And you know, to me, that is an element of leadership, you know, choosing to do something that you believe needs to be done, where at times people just won’t choose to do that because unfortunately it makes you uncomfortable or it puts you in a place where you’re vulnerable.
There’s no question in my mind, I think there’s an element of nature involved in leadership. An innate comfort level, confidence, perhaps, but in reality, there’s also a nurture level. Great mentorship, good coaching, understanding that as you make decisions and you experience an uncomfortableness, but you understand that the decisions you made turns out in a good way, you build your own confidence and have a greater ability to push yourself farther and farther. And often that demonstrates the leadership potential that you have, and then others recognize that and it, it becomes somewhat circular.
Roy Notowitz: [00:06:10] So Harvey, let’s talk a little bit about your career story and how you got on your path towards leadership and, and specifically how choosing to lead has defined or shaped your career to get you to where you are today?
Harvey Kanter: [00:06:23] My retail career story is literally generations in the making. I’m a fifth generation retailer. And I know that seems odd, but my father was a retailer, and his father, and so on. And what, what is scary is two of my three kids are in retail. So it, it must be in my blood.
Roy Notowitz: [00:06:41] Definitely.
Harvey Kanter: [00:06:42] Yeah. My dad was a successful retailer. I had an incredible childhood. I had a full family life, strong values, togetherness and adventure, which some elements of this I talk about specifically in my book, but all by way of saying, I looked at my dad, I looked at his career, I thought he had fun, he provided, you know, a great family life for us through his career, the travels, the product, his ability to earn a living. And all of that propelled me to want to be in retail. And so my choice to lead, if you will, was driven by three things: one, the luck of where I went to work and who I worked for and mentors that, you know, I was under the tutelage, my family upbringing, and, you know, at some level the college career and choices I made propelled me further into that.
Roy Notowitz: [00:07:28] So, when did you first start hiring and building teams? Did you have somebody who taught you or mentored you in that regard? And what experiences have shaped your hiring philosophy as you’ve grown as a leader?
Harvey Kanter: [00:07:42] I think my first true experience hiring and building teams is probably at Eddie Bauer. I joined Eddie Bauer Home as Director of Merchandising in charge of product and planning, and the business had not made money for some time, five years earlier, it was founded. And so there was a strong belief it could, but yet I spent two years working on product and then through a change in leadership, really, I was tapped to be the Managing Director for the entire business unit. And we evolved, to your point hiring decisions and the kind of people we needed, and, and really, as we pursued a path, which I was ultimately accountable for product planning, sourcing, design, catalog stores, e-commerce and what have you, we recognized, I recognized the need to rebuild a team in earnest in a way that would provide outcomes for, to bring the best in people out.
I did have the great benefit of having a couple of HR leaders. And I would say really HR leaders, they were not quote/unquote purely functional as in, you know, fill out your paperwork and all that kind of thing, but actually coaching and mentoring of how to hire and some perspective about the kind of questions that are important, and it actually shaped my view of how you hire. But there are certain things that I do over and over and over that started way back when, when I first started hiring folks.
Roy Notowitz: [00:08:59] That’s cool. So what hiring wisdom did you gain from that substantive or formative hiring experience at Eddie Bauer?
Harvey Kanter: [00:09:06] Well, there’s, there’s two elements and you know, that cliche “hire for attitude, train for skill”, I think that’s what they say. I do believe that there is an awful lot about attitude. That skills can be taught, but how people approach life, you know, half full half empty cup, if you will, and commitment, drive, curiosity, intellectual capability, those are a lot of the things that I look for. And conversely skill, although critically important, especially the higher up you go, you actually have less and less direct, functional accountability, even though you may be the leader of marketing or stores or what have you, and more about how you make music together and build teams. And for lack of a better way to say it, great athletes can evolve their skill, if there are, you know, kind of the DNA of an athlete, if you will, but unless they’re a great athlete, you might not be able to help them evolve that skill. They don’t have the kind of the DNA to, to move forward in a, in a business setting, if you will.
Roy Notowitz: [00:10:03] With regard to hiring, as you were elevating through the ranks and relying on your direct reports to maybe do some more of that hiring across the team and as you scaled, did you develop those types of recruiting and selection capabilities within your team? And to what extent did you get involved to support and foster that recruiting environment?
Harvey Kanter: [00:10:25] There’s three different levels, I guess, that have evolved, and at different companies, different levels of usage of these. But one is, typically most companies I’ve worked for most recently in the last, I’d say 10 or 15 years, have almost a cheat sheet and a certain way that each associate hired into a company is evaluated. I think that’s important from a consistency standpoint. The second element is at some level testing and there’s a number of different kinds of tests. We use both a DXL today, but literally as far back as Michael’s. I personally, as the President of Aaron Brothers through something called PDI testing. And so testing, I think, is an important component. And then to your point, the process of what is the Q&A, and how do you put someone through kind of a filter that understands both the qualitative/quantitative, if you will, or intellect and EQ, two different sides of a, of a question. But all of those three elements, if you will, over the course of 10 or, the last 10 or 15 years have become much more consistent and important in the process, as opposed to what I would define as maybe perhaps older ways of interviewing where one or two individuals interview someone, go with their gut and, you know, do a little reference checking and then either you’re hired or not hired based on that interaction.
Roy Notowitz: [00:11:45] And so ultimately, how successful was your strategy at Eddie Bauer at the time?
Harvey Kanter: [00:11:50] Overall the, the building of, or the rebuilding of the Eddie Bauer Home team, which was primarily my accountability, worked out really well. Although I was only at Eddie Bauer for about 8 years, I was there from ’95 to ’03, as I said in the first couple of years, I had a more finite role and three years in, I was tapped to be the Managing Director of the entire business. The two things that I think are really important to hear is, one is strategy. And we redefined the strategy for the business, which was critically important, but we also redefined the team executing that. We evolved, not just what we’re doing, but how we are doing it. I would say for lack of a better way to say it, collaborative efforts, but a greater level of diversity of opinion, and really teasing discussions out around different ways to build that strategy and then execute it because I have this kind of very deep belief that no one individual has all the answers, and contention and diversity of opinion is really important to getting to a great place. And it was a different way of thinking about the business and ultimately in 2000, so two years after I took responsibility for the strategy, the first year we developed the strategy, the second year we executed it, and at the end of that second year, we, Eddie Bauer Home made money for the first time in 10 years. And so it, it was a good outcome. We, we made money and then for the next couple of years, we grew the business and continued to make money. So rebuilding that team, redefining the strategy, resulted in a great outcome.
Roy Notowitz: [00:13:16] So finding leaders and other people within your organization who had different perspective, different experiences, different opinions served you well.
Harvey Kanter: [00:13:26] Yeah, I think I would actually try to connect a few of the dots, right? So one of the things that I’ve talked about already is innate curiosity and inquisitiveness, right? So people being willing to ask more questions to be leaders, right? I actually worked for, she was a wonderful woman and I want to, want to say a visionary at some level, she helped define the Eddie Bauer business, but then we had to make really bright lines decisions. And we were unwilling to make some of those decisions because they, they required risk-taking and, and making decisions to go left, not right, or right, not left, and those are challenging. So inquisitiveness, curiosity, then that element of contention where people are willing to offer diverse opinions, put themselves out there, take risks, make mistakes, that was an important variable. And then the collaborative effort of the team, rebuilding that team that would be willing to work together and be collegiate. And yet in spite of diverse opinions and contention, that, that collegiality was important. So there, there is no silver bullet in my mind, you know. Great teams have a lot of variables that are important and there is no one silver bullet that makes a team great. As much as, you know, the, the ability to make music is like a symphony and a playlist, right? There’s a lot of different elements that go into it.
Roy Notowitz: [00:14:39] Okay. Let’s switch gears a bit. Obviously you’ve made a lot of great hires at the executive level and built great teams, but if you were to reflect on some of the hiring mistakes you’ve made over the years, have there been any contributing factors or things that you can point to that would be useful for us to hear?
Harvey Kanter: [00:14:59] I’d say relative to success or failure, it seems like more often than not the issues revolved, not around skills, but how that individual has interacted. Whether you talk about EQ or values, you know, personal values, leadership, communication skills, the greatest successes seem like those that revolved most around the individual’s ability to successfully marry skills and experiences they had genuinely authentically engaging others and building relationships. And obviously then the question you really asked is, what is the greatest failures? And the failures are ones that were not willing to do that. And we might even say more basic, weren’t willing to listen, be open to feedback, lead, be out in front and be respectful and value others’ opinions, and seem to have all the answers. And when your cup runneth over and you can’t take anything in, you’re just not a great team player more often than not. And so I think my greatest failures, if you will, were hiring decisions where I miss judged the ability of that individual, not from a skill, but from a how they build relationships, their communication skills, and what have you.
Roy Notowitz: Yeah. I’ve also seen the correlation between the EQ variable and leadership success. It’s absolutely essential.
Harvey Kanter: You know, we, we use EQ and there’s a lot of different levels of EQ, but it is amazing how important that social interaction is, and a willingness in my mind, uh, you know, I’ve used the word vulnerable a couple of times, but that interaction and how people work together and always giving people the benefit of the doubt and working hard to communicate, even when it’s uncomfortable, there’s a lot of variables there that you could unpack, but ultimately that relationship builds trust and trust is probably the single most important thing to actually successfully navigating as a team.
Roy Notowitz: [00:16:48] So thinking about current times, what are your thoughts about how remote or hybrid work affects these interactions? How will leaders create an environment where people can succeed at building relationships and trust in a virtual world?
Harvey Kanter: [00:17:02] It’s actually a great question. It’s one I talk about often and, you know, I believe you got to find the silver lining in everything. And although I could never even remotely think that anything good about COVID, but the reality is you look for silver linings. And one of the silver linings, for lack of a better way to say it, if there could be one, is the forcing mechanism that it was for the company I’m involved with and help lead and my management team, and in reality is our corporation, our company. What Zoom has done is, is challenging as it is to look at people on a screen, what Zoom has done, given the fact that, you know, I already talked about strategy and the importance of strategy and diversity of opinion, what Zoom has done is allowed us to have in our case, our operating regiment is once a day, the management team meets for an hour. We make sure we all know where we’re headed. That management team then has functional accountability and they meet with their team, typically once a day or once every couple of days and have the same kind of conversation. And then the reality is everyone’s empowered to go execute.
And we, because of Zoom, had really no ability to control outcomes. We lived in a COVID environment where none of us really knew where we we’re going in the world. And then as a company, none of us really knew whether we could control the outcomes of the work effort that people put in. So we were solely dependent upon everyone’s commitment, perseverance, mental health, attitude. But in reality, we had a strategy and we had plans and we would work through those every day, people would go execute, they were empowered to do that. And in that process, we’ve actually built an incredible level of trust and a greater level of team because we believe in each other now more than ever. And we’ve, we understand and believe in the commitments and perseverance of the team and the passion we all have. And literally I say this to our board, the forcing mechanism of COVID created a level of empowerment and a willingness to lose control for many of our senior managers and even VPs that probably wouldn’t have happened without COVID, and in that process has built an incredible level of trust and confidence in each other, which is actually quite inspiring.
Roy Notowitz: [00:19:18] Yeah. We’ve definitely seen CEOs, leaders and boards being more open around people working remotely as well as even people leading teams remotely. So, you know, I’m guessing that trend will continue, but at the same time, there’s also this social element that needs to factor in and hopefully we’ll have a balance of those two things moving forward.
Harvey Kanter: [00:19:39] It’s a great discussion point because we were having robust conversations from the standpoint of hiring and being an employer of choice, and how do you recruit, and what’s important to our associate population. So we do a lot of what I would call employment surveys today. And one of the, as you might imagine, greatest conversations were around work from home and return to work. We know that our employee base at this point is an incredible group of people that do wonderful things, and we have the greatest level of trust in competence, but the balancing act you just referred to is face time and how do you continue to build culture and the relevance of that? And I think we’ll ultimately land in a hybrid, which I am aware that many other companies will too, where a couple of days a week we will expect the team in, we will create and facilitate meetings and conversations when face time is important, and we’ll probably still be home three days a week because of the benefits of no commuting and daycare and all those variables that are also important to quality of life. So again, out of COVID comes learning and a forcing mechanism about flexible work life. And I think without COVID many companies would have never gone there.
Roy Notowitz: [00:20:45] I agree. It’s definitely a tipping point and we’re forever changed probably in a positive way. But let’s dig a bit deeper into the other elements of successful leadership that you highlight in your book. In your book, you build a case for diversity and you tie other concepts like resilience, optimism, curiosity, humility, decisiveness, teamwork, and the spirit of adventure as behaviors that underpin success. How do you bring all of those elements together in one team? Can you give us some examples?
Harvey Kanter: [00:21:19] The reality is the way I think about some of those things you referenced, they influence life, they inform experience, they create perspective. But the flip side of it is, as you already said, I think communication, the single greatest element of leadership, the most successful leaders are some of the most successful communicators. And the communication is open, honest, direct, transparent, but I always say that some leaders believe that power is defined by the amount of knowledge I have that you don’t. I define the most powerful organizations are the ones that disseminate the greatest level of knowledge, because the more knowledgeable every individual in an organization is the more powerful that organization can be kind of one plus one equals three.
And so then, you know, relative to some of those variables, you talked about adventure, resilience, et cetera, they are really important to me, but they all are almost feeders that add onto kind of the core elements. And probably the core elements are, you know, obviously as I’ve talked about is communication first. The element that communication hopefully builds is trust. And that the thing I look for most, more than any other variable in evaluating a team that I want to work with, a company I want to go to, the ability to evolve, you know, an organization’s thinking, is my ability and theirs to trust one another. And without that you just can’t demonstrate great leadership because you can’t, your, your willingness to put yourself out there, as I talked about, be vulnerable, use your experience, know that you’re not always right, really respect other people’s opinions, really mind those opinions through conversations, those are really critical. And things like adventure, adventure is about the more experience you have, the more complete your perspective could be. Resilience, resilience is about knowing that when you make bad decisions, that that risk you took was worth it because you learned something. So those are kind of in my mind, almost add on elements about how you inform your own leadership.
It’s actually through indirect Q&A, and I think that the more direct the Q&A is the more you’ll probably get a rehearsed answer that is not real. And it’s pretty funny from my perspective, I, I asked four questions. The four questions are typically towards the tail end of the interview, and it, it’s almost disarming, but I typically ask some version of what we’ve referenced at some point, somewhere along the hour-long interview, someone you worked with. And so I reference “tell me if I went to Bobby”, let’s assume Bobby was your boss “and, and asked Bobby, what is the single greatest thing that Sue does that you wish more people would do?” And then I get an answer. And then I ask the next question, and we typically talk about some peer or subordinates that have worked for this individual. And I ask the same question, “tell me what one thing people would say they want to do just like you when they’ve evolved and grown in their leadership”. And then the flip side is at that point, they’re kind of disarmed, and so I asked the alternative and say, “okay, back to that boss of yours, tell me what one thing that you would say they wish you would evolve, how, what you do, and what one thing would a subordinate or peer not want to do like you”.
Roy Notowitz: [00:24:42] Right.
Harvey Kanter: [00:24:42] And I think what I’m trying to get at in that Q&A, which seems to always work rather well, is kind of the unrehearsed authentic answer. And usually it’s something more specific to how they do their work and what’s important to them. And so I find that really important to the point you just asked, how do you get to an authentic, genuine understanding of that individual? They are willing to expose themselves in ways. When you ask the second two questions are really, what do you need to improve? But it doesn’t come across that way.
Roy Notowitz: [00:25:14] Yeah. It definitely takes skill and experience to get candidates to lose that interviewing mode or that veneer and to share openly like that. I think your approach is excellent, and I’m curious what else you can tell us about your interview methodology?
Harvey Kanter: [00:25:29] Yeah, and I’m very transparent and I tell them upfront, my interview process is very consistent. I tell them I want to spend five to ten minutes telling them about the job and the company in pretty finite detail in the context of five to ten minutes. And I then tell them, I want them to understand that, so they don’t have to take me through their resume, they can actually lean into the things that, in their experience would resonate with the kind of company we are and the role that we’re talking about. And that typically takes 20 to 30 minutes. I tell them that as they share their view, that ultimately I’ll ask questions and then I give them 20 minutes at the end to ask me anything they want. And what, what I find of great value is rather than just Q & A. I am very transparent and very direct about, here’s the kind of company we are, here’s what’s important to us, here’s how we do business. Now tell me why you want to be here and how the experiences you have would lean in. Some would say I’m leading the witness, but in reality, I’m actually then judging and I’m assessing the quality of their ability real time to be part of this organization. And in reality, it’s my assessment of their answers, but you know, they either do a really good job in helping me understand that or not, and it works, seems to work pretty well.
Roy Notowitz: [00:26:49] Do you also evaluate a person’s connection to the company’s mission and purpose?
Harvey Kanter: [00:26:54] You know, it’s, it’s a really good question. The last three companies I’ve worked for have had great purpose, great, I would say mission. The one I work at today and the one I’m a part of and help lead, we serve an underserved customer. And I run a big and tall retailer, our management team, our sales associates in our store, our corporate associates, they’re really quite passionate around the consumer that we serve. And I actually find it very exciting. I was at Blue Nile before this. One of the things I loved, we had a call center and we were unwilling to farm out our call center because we never thought that folks would have the passion for the consumer. And what I found then and find today really still interesting is the commitment our associates have to being involved in one of the most, if not the most important emotional moment in a person’s life, which is getting married. Other than giving birth, you know, for couples, you know, in many rays getting married, same sex, different sex, whatever, getting married is a huge moment. And that purpose, that sense of involvement, not just selling stuff is really powerful.
And so I would not say it’s a reason I wouldn’t hire someone. It’s not that, but, to the degree that someone walks in and wants to understand the business, understand the purpose, and demonstrates some level of genuine orientation around that purpose, it’s that much more powerful a hire.
Roy Notowitz: [00:28:19] Yeah. I agree, a hundred percent.
Harvey Kanter: [00:28:21] The other thing, which I think it is really a great value is the kind of company you are and what you stand for, and even when, in that five or ten minutes of opening, we typically talk, I typically talk about the kind of company we are, and in our case, DXL, I’ll give you an example of DXL. We are a very big supporter of St. Jude’s and very active. And I know you personally, who supported me when I was at Blue Nile, we were involved in charity for cancer research and we as a company, were one of the largest relative to our size participants in a, in a bike ride that raised money for cancer. And you very kindly supported me personally, but, but those moments in addition to business purpose, I think are equally powerful and important to understand the orientation of a, of a recruited individual.
Roy Notowitz: [00:29:12] So, is there anything a candidate can say in the interview process that sparks a judgemental hot button or something that turns you off? Like so that you want to end the interview or just know that the candidate’s not a fit?
Harvey Kanter: [00:29:25] Yeah, I would tell you there are two things. One is blame. And I think that I experienced every so often the candidate that instead of talking about all the great things they have done, the organization they’re part of, the learnings they’ve had, their passion, and the things that I think would propel me to say, “Wow, this individual is going to come in here and impact the organization”, the opposite happens where they talk about why they’re here and they’re here because they don’t like the company they’re with or the person they work for or the situation they’re in. And, you know, while it may not quote/unquote be blame and all the things that went wrong, they demonstrate a lack of listening, they demonstrate a lack of curiosity and inquisitiveness, and they demonstrate a lack of ability to rise above as opposed to be, you know, sucked into an environment that doesn’t work. So, so that’s one thing that in my interview with people that, you know, we talk about athlete and attitude. They potentially have the wrong attitude and just they don’t work.
And then the other one is the one that takes up all the air time, and doesn’t have not only listening skills, but the second thing that when I ask what questions you have for me, it’s so powerful what you can learn by their questions, and literally what they’re interested to learn about you, the company, the organization. And based on those, sometimes you get into interviews where the candidate doesn’t even really have two questions. And when you say do you have anything else and they’re saying no. And so then they’re clearly not demonstrating either research or a desire to learn about you. They just want the job, and when they get the job, they’ll figure it out. That doesn’t really work.
Roy Notowitz: [00:31:03] Now that we’re coming out of the pandemic, how do you think consumers and businesses and retail and e-commerce will operate?
Harvey Kanter: [00:31:09] Honestly in so many different ways. I think we as retailers and in similar businesses, the question has to be asked, will we be able to hire folks at the level required? Will they be the quality we want at what wages will we hire folks that are passionate? Today I think there is an element, certainly the business I run, there’s a passion for the consumer we have, and incredible sales associates that care, that value and respect our customers is pretty unique. It’s a compelling interaction, which I think is really important. We talk about the experience at DXL, which is the company I’m involved in, being one of the most defining elements about why people shop with us beyond great product.
And if you layer that onto what is COVID-related specifically, the challenge taking place about wages and stimulus and support is more challenging than ever. And the forums I’m involved in, which I, I’m sure you have the same conversations, are people coming back to work and wanting to be in retail or wanting to be in restaurants and, and all the variables that happen with social distancing and vaccines and what have you. So I think it’s going to be potentially a more difficult environment for a period of time, and some of the environment that was before won’t be the same as it is in the future.
Roy Notowitz: [00:32:30] So now as we’re coming out of the pandemic, being with friends and family, coworkers and neighbors, it’s so great, and I’m guessing for your business, especially the special events and occasions will be even more meaningful and it’ll be really exciting to see the energy back out there.
Harvey Kanter: [00:32:49] Yeah, I think, I think that at least for us, and we talk about this often, having somewhere to go, whether it’s travel, a wedding, a family event, is a reason for an apparel company to exist among other reasons and the need to dress up, right, to go out, to be, and to travel and all those things that require clothes that wear out. So I think it will open up in many ways. Interesting enough, I think that the flip side is, I think that more people come into stores and interact in that way, but there are consumer shifts in behavior that forever and going forward will never change. And, and the question, it’s interesting, things like live stream or other what I would call digitally interactive video, live video. So we’re doing some tests from our store. We have a hundred stores that you can actually pick up your iPhone and interact live with someone in the store and have a shopping experience from your phone.
Roy Notowitz: [00:33:45] Oh, that’s awesome.
Harvey Kanter: [00:33:46] The reinvention of how people interact is equally exciting and it will still create some of these variables that we’ve talked about though, in terms of the importance of relationships and communication and purpose and values and culture and what have you.
Roy Notowitz: [00:34:02] That’s awesome. That sounds exciting.
Harvey Kanter: [00:34:04] For certain companies that are built around relationships and experience, and not every company is, but we, the company I’m involved in today is not a transactional based retailer. And so that experience is really critically important as it is for many other businesses.
Roy Notowitz: [00:34:19] So in thinking about your future, what are the ways that you’re anticipating you’ll continue to pursue your leadership and help others and to create meaning and to promote the concepts that are in your book?
Harvey Kanter: [00:34:30] I think that’s a question I ask myself a lot these days, but it’s a very important question. I love building organizations. Helping organizations think about people and culture, the strategy, and, and really how to make music. And, and by building a culture around a strategy, a mission, vision, and strategic purpose, organizations can be the best they can be. And I expect for now that will generate energy for me and leading DXL. And in time, perhaps, you know, I’ve considered things like academia or consulting or greater board roles, but I love what we’ve talked about today because I think that when the day’s done, obviously I’m passionate about leadership, I’m passionate about hiring the right people and building organizations. And I, and I can’t really imagine stopping that and, and trying to make a difference in people’s lives, in a role. And whether I’m the leader or a part of a team, I think mentorship, coaching, and leading in some way, for me gives me great energy and purpose myself. And through that, I create opportunities to explore, whether it’s companies or academia or other, other things down the road in the future.
Roy Notowitz: [00:35:42] I’ve always appreciated the reciprocal nature of our relationship. And, you know, at different times we’ve reached out to one another, if not for a specific reason, just to check in. You always make an extra effort to invest in the success of others, and your book is just a perfect example of who you are and how you pay it forward, and I think that’s great.
Harvey Kanter: [00:36:03] You know, it’s funny you say that. That, that concept, if you will, for lack of a better way to say it, we’ve talked a little bit about it, but nature/nurture. From a nurture perspective, my mom, who’s no longer with us, but one of the things she taught me and my father and family always joked about is, my mom collected people. She’d collect people, and what I’m really referring to is relationships. And, you know, you have to work hard at maintaining relationships and it’s a two-way street, but the power of interacting with people and learning from people and having really profound relationships, and even the way you just find our relationship, I think is, is important. And we help each other and willingness to put yourself out there and do that creates relationships that, you know, in our case has lasted 10 years plus. And, you know, like we’ve talked about also, your impact, you know, as a recruiter and more broadly what your firm does today is really powerful because helping people make an impact, you’re making a huge impact through that process. So, and that’s, what’s important to me, you know, equally so.
Roy Notowitz: [00:37:07] We get a lot of satisfaction in knowing that through the work that we’re doing, we’re able to influence, impact more people through the leaders that we place. So, tell us how we can follow your journey and continue to be inspired by you and the community that you’re cultivating.
Harvey Kanter: [00:37:22] Well, I hope I can inspire more people. Time will tell, but I’m on LinkedIn and you can definitely connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m on Amazon with my book, Choosing to Lead, and I can be emailed at info@HarveyKanter.com.
Roy Notowitz: [00:37:37] That’s great. I really enjoyed our conversation today. Thank you for taking the time to share how you lead and how you hire. It was super interesting, and thanks again for being here.
Thanks for tuning in to How I Hire. If you know somebody who you think would be interested in this podcast, please let them know that they can find How I Hire on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon, and all major listening platforms. How I Hire is created by Noto Group Executive Search. To find out more about Noto Group, visit NotoGroup.com and follow us on LinkedIn. This podcast was produced by AO McClain LLC. To learn more about their work, visit AOMcClain.com.