How can an engineer build your career path to CEO? Does measuring success actually hurt your growth? What’s the best response to people who doubt your qualifications to lead at the next level?
In this episode, you’ll meet Ken Whah, President and CEO of Hanson Logistics, who proves that anything is possible with the foundation of an engineering mindset. As long as you build on it the right way.
Ken has a track record of success in engineering, product development, innovation, marketing, operations, supply chain, sales, and now sits in the corner office as CEO. If you have ambition to build an amazing career, and enjoy your life along the way, you’re going to love this.
His story is not all rainbows and unicorns. Ken learned major life lessons from hitting rock bottom. A bottom that really hurt.
So press play and let’s chat… so you can grow fast and avoid making the same mistakes!
The Happy Engineer Podcast
WATCH EPISODE 024: HOW TO GROW FROM ENGINEER TO CEO WITH KEN WHAH
LISTEN TO EPISODE 024: HOW TO GROW FROM ENGINEER TO CEO INTERVIEW WITH ZACH’S DEBRIEF
HOW TO BUILD YOUR CAREER PATH TO CEO: INSIGHTS FROM THIS EPISODE
What was your biggest takeaway from that conversation with CEO Ken Whah? If you have not listened yet, do it. I love this guy. There are a lot of things that I want to unpack with you, but the very first piece that Ken gave us and we dug into it deeper, this idea of what it actually felt like to be in these various roles and achieving the various successes that are absolutely all over Ken’s resume.
You look at the things he’s accomplished, you look at the success of his career and his life and it’s undeniable. But what was the very first thing that Ken shared with us?
It didn’t always feel like success.
This is such an interesting point, and I want to spend some time with you unpacking this because let’s face it, we’re engineers and engineers engineering leaders. As we move up and we achieve more success, we get really good at using all of our mind, our analytics, our logic, and data to drive great decisions. We study probabilistic decision-making models. We create really complex algorithms. We use AI and machine learning. We are all about fundamental physics.
What is reality? What are the laws that govern how things behave and wanting to stay in line with that field? Emotions, gut instincts, a hunch intuition? No way! Right? Just, just skip all of that. We’re engineers. We operate in the real world, right? None of that woo-woo feelings stuff.
But this is the happy engineer podcast. You’re listening to this for a reason. And I really believe that one of those core reasons is that all of us, myself included, deep down want to experience a higher quality of life. And at the end of the day, your quality of life is most closely correlated to the quality of your emotions.
If I were to ask you “how’s life?” right now, and you’re experiencing a lot of negative emotion: sadness, anger, depression, disgust, anxiety… If that’s the quality of your emotions right now, how are you going to answer that question? It’s not good. You know, things are not good.
I’m stressed, I’m depressed, I’m way too busy, I’m overwhelmed. But on the flip side, if you’re experiencing every single day through the day positive emotions: Oh, I’m so happy. I’m full of joy. I’m energized. I’m enthusiastic. Laughter and celebration is what characterizes the quality of my emotional life right now. Then you’re going to say the quality of your life is great.
So emotions do matter.
Even as engineers we are seeking to make an impact in the world in a way that resonates with this part of us, that longs for happiness and positive emotion. And so that said, going back to what Ken described here, he is facing new challenges, reaching new heights and new levels in his career.
But the experience didn’t always feel like success. I think this is so interesting because sometimes, we chase this idea of what success is supposed to look like. I just want to point this out. Ken described very clearly, it felt like he wasn’t doing enough. In his words: It never seemed like I was getting the alignment that I needed. I always was wondering if I was doing enough, fast enough. It just felt like we weren’t going at the pace I wanted.
But now Ken is sitting here incredibly successful, incredibly happy in that CEO role, having the career that many of you desire to have, he realizes it wasn’t just the things happening during the role. It wasn’t the pressure he was putting on himself. When he looks back, he realizes there was so much more that he was accomplishing. There was so much growth. There was so much learning and here’s the key, this is what I want you to take away. It’s so counterintuitive to take Ken’s advice and measure less often against that final goal.
He’s not saying don’t measure. We’re engineers, we’re going to measure. You want to measure things, then you can manage them, but it’s measuring against that final result too often that becomes a problem. So what does that look like for you? You want to be a vice-president of engineering. If every single day, every single week, every single quarter, you are measuring yourself against that vision, that goal of becoming a VP.
Well, if you’re not a VP today, odds are, you’re not going to be one tomorrow. All right. If you’re a senior manager today, the path to CTO has a few more steps in it. And if you’re constantly focusing on the gap between where you’re at today and where you want to be, that is a recipe for feeling like an underachiever. Feeling like you’re not even close, feeling like there’s a mountain ahead of you, feeling like a failure, or wondering why you’re even bothering to try.
You know the script, the story, the negative self-talk that you play in your own mind. We want to get into the habit of looking at that big vision to create motivation and inspiration and drive. Believe me, I’m one of the most visionary people you’re going to meet. I love a big vision, but I can also tell you from my own personal experience, that when I wake up every day and just stare longingly at that distant vision and realize that there’s a massive gap between where I’m at and that goal where I want to be. All I do is get stuck measuring against that gap. I feel disappointed. I feel like I’m not going fast enough. I want more right now. You can ask my coach, you can ask my mastermind.
I am guilty of having these emotions, saying “oh, I’m just not going fast enough”. It feels like I’m going so slow, but I want you to remember that there is both the gap and the gain, the gains in your life. Look back, look at how far you’ve come. Look at the challenges that you have overcome in your life. The things that you’ve accomplished up until now, the gains in your life are significant.
Even if you’re thinking hey – I haven’t done anything like what Ken has done… but you don’t have to be Ken Whah to have had an incredible life journey up till now. Look at the gains, measure less often on the final goal. Focus day by day on the routines and actions that are going to get you there, celebrate the gains, celebrate the small victories, and then go back to your vision and dreams for that inspiration.
You could say yes, I do desire that I want to be a CTO one day. I have what it takes.
So what is my next step?
Let’s cut that big goal down into smaller chunks that are easier to achieve. Easier to measure your success against, and easier to not get discouraged. Why am I just spending this entire time talking about this one thing? Well, here’s why – as an engineer, we are always going to be biased and addicted toward the rational, the left brain, the measuring, et cetera.
And for many of us, when we set up these big visions, when we set up this emotional pole towards a brighter future. The dissonance that’s created in that moment makes it really hard to experience the happiness and the quality of life right now, because of exactly what Ken described: I feel like I’m not doing enough.
I feel like I’m not going fast enough and every day that I’m not at the goal is a day that I need to beat myself up and go harder. I’m here to tell you that is not the recipe for a happy engineer. Set a big vision, aim for the stars, absolutely. But day by day measure against today’s tasks, measuring against the routines and actions that are going to set you up for success. Measure against the courage that you’re demonstrating in getting out of your comfort zone and taking new bold action.
Celebrate the small wins. Turn around, look back at the journey that you’ve come on and celebrate the gains and the progress you’ve made. Don’t simply measure and focus on the gap. If you want to be happier right now, take Ken’s advice. Start living this way. I promise it doesn’t slow you down. One day you’re going to look back when you are a CEO just like Ken and say, huh, it didn’t always feel like success along the way, but I absolutely came further than I ever thought was possible.
Allow yourself to enjoy that balanced life. Remember there are seasons to go hard. There’s seasons to take it easy, take care of yourself. Don’t be one dimensional. But when you do this, the quality of that journey, you can experience what Ken’s experiencing right now, right where you’re at.
ABOUT KEN WHAH
Ken Whah is President and CEO of Hanson Logistics. He joined Hanson Logistics from Whirlpool Corporation, where as of Director of North American Logistics Operations he oversaw 1,000 logistics associates and a network of 23 factory and regional distribution centers. Among many other achievements, Whah initiated numerous large-scale infrastructure, system, and technology investments as strategic enablers.
He holds an MBA from the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business; a Masters in Engineering from Purdue University; and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He is a visiting professor of business at Indiana University and Purdue.
LINKS MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:
Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.
[00:00:00] Zach White: Welcome back happy engineers. You’re in for an incredible treat today. I have not only an incredibly successful leader in Ken Whah with us, but a really good friend of mine for years now, Ken and his family are just amazing people through and through Ken, thank you so much for taking time out of an incredibly busy schedule to be with me and our listeners today.
[00:00:34] Ken Whah: Absolutely glad to be here.
Expand to Read Full Transcript
[00:00:35] Zach White: It’s awesome, man. I just so good to see you on the other end of this, and here’s where I want to begin. There’s a thousand places we could start because your career journey is loaded with success, but what’s unique about you versus a lot of the engineering leaders that I get to talk to is that you’ve had success.
[00:00:50] Across every domain and department of the business and engineering, you’ve had success in sales. You’ve had success in product development. You’ve had success in, in marketing and logistics. And now having built a career path to CEO, like Ken wa has touched every function of the business and found success. And a lot of engineers either are told that it’s really hard to come out of engineering and do other things.
[00:01:12] Or maybe they’re told engineering is the perfect foundation who knows. What is your actual belief around how the engineering foundations starting with that skillset and education has served you across all these different steps of the career ladder and different domains of the business. What’s that golden thread that connects your . Success across all these.
[00:01:37] Ken Whah: Well, we’ll come back to the part of this, because you’re saying that, uh, I’ve had success in all these areas. And first thing I’ll tell you that, is it, a lot of times it didn’t feel like success during, during the moment. Uh, and we can come back to that, to that theme. Um, but. But I will agree with you wholeheartedly that the foundation of my engineering degree has helped me wholeheartedly to the, to the point where I have, I really, I told my children as well as other, other friends, uh, children, that if you’re looking . For a degree, uh, engineering is such a great, great basis for pretty much anything you want to do in . Life.
[00:02:11] Uh, the reason I say that is a couple of reasons. Uh, the, the critical thinking aspect, uh, of, of engineering programs that really made you think through answers to problems and solutions to problems, uh, critically thinking, uh, it’s not, uh, traditionally out there and you’ll, you’ll meet a lot of people out there that that’s not their, that’s not their thing.
[00:02:31] They, you know, they want to be told what to do. And oh yeah, I see. There’s a problem. Tell me the solution and I’ll go fix it versus I don’t know the solution. You’re going to have to think through this and figure out what the solution is, uh, that transcends to any function in any business. Uh, and, and that is, uh, is it.
[00:02:50] The other piece that I love that to show that we become very fact-based data oriented fact-based, uh, which I always say the data will not lie to you. It always is the truth, and it will set you free, right? It’ll show you the way. Uh, and we have to, we have to go after the facts and you’ll learn as well.
[00:03:09] And a lot of different businesses. There’s a lot of gut-feel, which, uh, which is okay. I mean, an experience you can’t, you can’t deny. Um, but there’s always opinions to refute that. And the best way that I’ve found in every function I’ve been in is to present data and facts. And, and then you can’t argue those anymore.
[00:03:25] You move on to the next step,
[00:03:26] Zach White: right? When you bump into one of the. Gut feel people who just want to go with experience or the intuition and they, they kind of refute, or don’t want to talk about the data as a data-driven engineering mindset person. How do you handle those type of interactions?
[00:03:48] Ken Whah: I always realize there’s something to learn, from somebody like that.
[00:03:53] Uh, in most cases, In a lot of cases. They’re right. They’ve been there. They’ve done that. They know what they know, but they haven’t themselves found the data to back themselves up. So in a lot of cases, I’ll, I’ll ask a lot of questions. Because I know I need the data and maybe they don’t need it as much to make the decision, but I’ll ask them, Hey, I want to, prove this to myself.
[00:04:15] Can I ask more questions? Show me what you’re talking about so that I can go prove it myself, you know, don’t waste their time. I’m going to go, you know, I’m that guy, which, you know, it could be a downfall too, because I, you know, I don’t want. Uh, analysis paralysis, but I have to at least believe in something underlying from a factual basis before I want to move forward.
[00:04:35] Right. So,
[00:04:37] Zach White: uh, I really liked that question. That’s kind of a ninja move to . Say, Hey, will you help me prove this to myself? And in a way you’ve relieved any sense? Combativeness or like triggering defensiveness in them. But at the same time, if you discover something very contrary to their perspective, maybe there’ll be more open to it.
[00:04:58] I like
[00:04:59] Ken Whah: that. Absolutely. And in most . Cases you’ll find. Uh, supporting information for there, but then you can present it back to them and show, Hey, I found exactly what you were saying, but I found some really interesting things when I did that. And you can presenting some of the nuances mean,
[00:05:16] Zach White: so critical thinking fact based data-driven. Is there anything else in that golden through line of an engineering foundation that has served you in your.
[00:05:26] Ken Whah: I mean, I think everyone who has gone through an engineering degree has known that it, it takes just hard work . Sometimes. Right. You know, and, and, uh, uh, just for, to, to, to get through. Right. And, and, you know, w we know we’re experimenters and how many times does it take to try a new solution before you.
[00:05:43] The solution. There’s a lot of failure in that. Right. and I think that foundation of, you know, what, you might not get it right the first time. Let’s try something new and try it again and keep trying until you find that solution. I think that engineering background teaches us that as well.
[00:05:59] Zach White: Caffeine fueled late nights at Purdue that can substantiate what you’re saying there, which, uh, can you also have a degree from Purdue and also Rose Holman? Is that right? That’s correct. A boiler up. That’s fantastic. What about the other side then Ken being an engineer, it trains us to think a certain way.
[00:06:22] We might stereotypically have some patterns. Of behavior or attitudes that some people say are not going to serve you. I’m curious for your perspective, are there things you’ve had to overcome or compliment in your personal growth to be able to be successful in these other functions of the business?
[00:06:42] Ken Whah: I too, first one that, uh, is probably the hardest one, but I mean, you just mentioned that these late nights.
[00:06:48] You can’t, you can’t do it forever. Uh, you, you have, is there a season, if you will, you know, you plan for, and you allow for, okay. I know, I know this week is going to be crazy, but then I have some reflection and downtime building. Uh, I mean, you have to keep a healthy, rounded person in order to be successful.
[00:07:02] Uh, and, and you know, it can’t just be work. There has to be a personal, uh, you know, your family, your friends, your, your, your spouse, or your significant other. There has to be, you know, if you’re, if you’re into your face, it has to be some balance with your faith. There has to be balanced on your, on your personal health.
[00:07:15] Yeah. Um, and being able to exercise eat well and things like that, and just retreat and recreation too. Right? You have to build that in and if you’re not balanced, it will take a toll on you, your family, as an individual. Right. And, uh, and your opportunity for success, it shows back up and your inability to be creative and your inability to.
[00:07:37] To find solutions as well. So, uh, it is as hard as that is for all of us, uh, engineers who want to just pound it out and work the a hundred hours to get it done, uh, that it does not produce the solution. Uh, you know, we always say work smarter, not harder, right? Well, the work smart here it is that balance, that balance wheel will get you to solutions faster than this working
[00:07:57] Zach White: hard.
[00:07:58] A hundred percent agree. This is really, really common. And we see with our clients who we serve at a Waco who come in with there’s only one speed. It’s full speed and it’s all work, but I’m curious. Can, do you have any belief or understanding on why, why are engineers. So drawn into that trap of being very one dimensional in their life and that tendency to overwork and, you know, put in those hours and think that working harder and longer is the, always the solution.
[00:08:27] Ken Whah: I just, um, I can speak from personal experience and friends that I know in the space, and I think we are so drawn to solving the problem, uh, that we’ve, we’ve put on ourselves. We take accountability for the solving the problem. And we know that it’s going to take a lot of hours to solve this problem. And so we’d rather.
[00:08:46] Knock it out, get it done. And, and when, and when you are on the right path, that’s probably one of the hardest parts is you, you get some data that says, oh wow. Yes, we’re on the right path. Well, you don’t, you don’t want to stop just like reading a good book. You just want to keep going until you’re done.
[00:09:00] Right. And, uh, and so you, you. You know, cause we’ve all filled that too is where you take a break and then mentally, you come back and it takes you a little while to get back into the groove. Uh, and so we tend to probably, I do, I tend to think breaks sometimes slow us down. I, you know, that’s just my insight on why I think we all have these engineering background.
[00:09:21] We, you know, we want to just get it done and move through and the commitment that we made, we want to, we want to follow.
[00:09:28] Zach White: So that’s number one, you mentioned earlier, there were two. Maybe I distracted you. Do you remember the other? I do.
[00:09:34] Ken Whah: So the other big one that this one is what took me into all these other areas of my career.
[00:09:40] Uh, was I, I am really curious on why and early on in . My career, I, you know, it didn’t really matter. In fact, you know, the earlier in your career and your as an entry. You don’t really need to know why, why am I doing this, man? You got to get this done. I was going to test engineer. Well, we got to test this product.
[00:09:58] That’s why, but I just kept having, I just wanted to know why is this, why are we even developing this feature? why are we testing it this way? And I just got so curious on why, uh, that, uh, I believe that helped. Because it became much more than, than just the solution anymore, right. Because the solution to the problem, but why does the problem even exist?
[00:10:19] Right. And so I . Moved from, uh, from engineering into product development and really started listening to going to customer research and listening to the customers and getting really enamored with trying to understand why are we even doing this? Uh, and now it transformed me from, from. I know I can use data and critical thinking to solve problems, but w you know, now, you know why, and you could then be more creative on all the solutions, because sometimes you’re taking somebody else’s opinion on what the problem is before going to the end, consumer of truly understanding what they’re thinking, uh, to then come up with a broader set of possible solutions, uh, to, to what’s going on.
[00:10:59] Uh, and, and when I started doing that is when, uh, I started over overachieving because I was seeing beyond the current and I could have a bigger vision, a broader vision for what, uh, what really needed to be done, uh, in, in not just the current project. But you could start thinking about what’s the next project.
[00:11:16] What’s the next thing we could go do.
[00:11:18] Zach White: Yeah, that’s really good. And I see this too, engineers are how people and we get trained this way all through school. The problem is just handed to you and you go about solving it, figure out the answer. And it’s all about how to get to that finish line, which we love it when we can see all the way to the finish line from the very beginning, right engineers, when you can’t see the, how the dots connect, that creates a lot of fear and uncertainty in our lives.
[00:11:42] What I hear you saying is . If you want to really be successful outside of engineering and even build your engineering career to high levels, if you want to be a director of VP CTO, It’s not enough to be a high person. You also need to be a what and Y person to, to get. And I, a hundred percent agree with that.
[00:11:59] That’s that’s really good. So So for the engineering leader, listening to this, it’s one thing to be really great at solving problems. But it’s even greater to know why you’re solving it in the first place. So take, take that to heart. You said something really interesting earlier, Ken and I do want to come back to it that maybe my comments about your incredible success in all these roles is a, an outsider’s perspective, but from the inside, it didn’t always look or feel that way to you tell us what you meant by that.
[00:12:26] Ken Whah: So I’ll give you a couple of things. One within each role. I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Right. I, and that it wasn’t going exactly how I saw it should. Uh, I had a vision. I had a goal, but rallying everybody around that same goal is, is always a struggle. And in no matter what role I’ve been in, uh, you’ll, you’ll never get perfect alignment around things.
[00:12:49] Plus with the corporate world and change just when you got. You know, three quarters of the people aligned to something, three people change roles, and now you’ve got to redo it again. Right. Uh, and so, uh, there was always a level of frustration of I’m not doing enough fast enough. Uh, but, uh, what I’ve learned through all those is you learn to measure less often, uh, you know, do more toward a vision, but measure yourself less often.
[00:13:15] If you’re measuring yourself. Or even monthly on the final result of that, you’re going to drive yourself crazy. But if you’re measured the final result in the years, or even five-year increments, you’re gonna look back at it and be much more happy with what, what you’ve accomplished. What I do measure is my behaviors and my, uh, in my room.
[00:13:37] Am I doing what I say I’m going to do? Am I behaving the way I, I said, I’m going to behave those things. I is what you focus on in the short term. Um, the results will follow. The other thing I would tell you is that mentioned, man, I had this path, I went through all these different roles. Uh, I had no idea that was the path I had my own path, but that wasn’t, that wasn’t the path that God had planned for me and I, and every single time I had it wrong, right.
[00:14:02] Every time I thought my next, my next path, and my next role is what I thought was going to happen. That’s not what happened. You know, it was a whole different role and a whole new door that opened up. Uh, and it’s always landed in a group. Uh, and, and many times I wasn’t known didn’t know, is this where I’m supposed to go next?
[00:14:17] But because like you said before that background of me, you know, Hey, this is just a new problem. And it’s, and it’s a different way to think about this problem. They’re bringing me in as a new perspective to solve this problem. And I’ve been pretty successful at that. Uh, looking back at it, like I said, when you’re in the.
[00:14:35] You might not even think you were that successful, but when you look back at it, you kind of go, wow, we actually did accomplish a lot.
[00:14:44] Zach White: This. Cool discussion that I know engineers face a lot there. Maybe I’ll paint it as a continuum where on, on one side is this belief system that I need to have a crystal clear plan around everything that I’m going to do next.
[00:14:59] And, you know, go share that with my leadership and, you know, settle for nothing less than my plan. And on the other side might be. Totally random. I had no idea this was going to happen. Results just sort of fell into my lap. And here I am, I planned nothing. I don’t think anybody lives on the full end of the extremes, but we started.
[00:15:18] Come in with maybe a bias toward one or the other. And can you then describe Ken for what you’ve learned and going through this, you had a plan, but it often went another way. So if I’m an engineer, maybe I’m an, you know, I’m a manager, I’m a senior manager and like, I really want to be a director of engineering and that’s my goal.
[00:15:36] That’s my thing. And I’m laser focused on this one plan. How do you, how do you go hard towards your goal and plan? But still have this openness to see the open door that might be right there next to you that you never thought would come, but it’s actually an awesome opportunity. How do you do that?
[00:15:57] Ken Whah: Well, I’ll tell you, you make me laugh because most, every single time, one of those opportunities presented.
[00:16:04] I told them instantly. No, thank you. Right. And then, and then I had to go . Think about it. Right. You know, everyone, it was like, oh, Hey, we want you to be an innovation consultant. No, thank you. That doesn’t sound fun. That’s not me. Or, Hey, we want to, I want you to move into sales. Yeah, no, that’s okay. No, we want you to move in the logistics.
[00:16:22] Yeah, no, that’s no, that’s not me. Uh, and the. Uh, I thought about it. I kind of, you know, it was knowing at me a little and what I did is I turned to people. I trust you have to have group of people you trust that you can talk to. Uh, if you have, uh, a coach, uh, you know, life coach or, or if you have, uh, you know, your, your wife or your, or a business partner or somebody that you just knows you better than you sometimes.
[00:16:46] And, uh, and I, and a lot of cases, I had a . Mentor at, at the job, um, that was, uh, you know, much more senior position than I was, but he had put his arm around me throughout my career. And I would, I would go to that person and just ask, you know, Hey, what do you think about this? And he would bounce. Right. But he didn’t use it.
[00:17:04] You were wanted to leverage this skill and this talent next, this is where you, well, that I know you had this idea over here, but this sounds like the same thing just presented in a different form. And, uh, and that I needed a different perspective. you needed a different PR to see that I don’t think I would have saw it without, uh, help of my wife, my, my mentor, a who would help me see something a different way.
[00:17:30] Uh, I’m a big believer in other perspectives. And that’s another tenant that I’ve put into place as I’ve grown as a leader. You seek, seek others’ perspective. Um, I stopped calling them opinions because yeah, I get it. But it’s not really about fighting opinions. It’s about different perspectives and every person has a different perspective and their perspective is always right.
[00:17:51] Or you can’t, you can’t refute their perspective. It’s their perspective, right?
[00:17:54] Zach White: that’s a great reminder. It’s not about seeking the right answer from other people. It’s just. Building your, your set of perspectives, some information to pull from. I love that. And in the presence
[00:18:06] Ken Whah: of vision, right?
[00:18:06] You have a vision without lots of perspectives,
[00:18:08] Zach White: right? Yeah, totally. Oh, I love that vision implies broad perspective. That’s great. And in the presence of many counselors, there is safety Proverbs, so that’s really . Good. Um, so through that journey, Ken. Is there any moment in particular that stands out to you as a really defining moment in your career path and life that you look back to and say, like, this was one of those moments where things really shifted or the trajectory changed for me?
[00:18:35] Ken Whah: Well, yeah, I think, um, unfortunately it was a really bad time in my life when I was, uh, I was focusing too much on. On work and I’ve learned the hard way, unfortunately. Uh, and, and wasn’t just that, but I kind of look back and reflect on a lot of the issues that were going on in my personal life, uh, toward, uh, my ambition.
[00:18:44] And I even, you know, go back, ambition was my number one goal, and which is even weird. I don’t even know how ambition can be a goal. It’s like more of a verb than a goal. Right. But I use that reflection to say, I do believe that that not having my balance, uh, in check, uh, really destroyed my first marriage, uh, and, uh, and took me down a path that, that hit.
[00:19:07] I hit a bottom, I hit a bottom and, and I realized that, wow, I’m, you know, I’m going to have to do something different and. And, you know, I sought the Lord. I, and I really, you know, gave it to him for the, maybe the first time ever. And, uh, uh, and came . Out, uh, you know, with a new perspective that I have talents I’m worth while I’m valuable.
[00:19:27] And, uh, and I need to keep things imbalanced though, but it’s not just about work. It’s about my whole life and I want to be successful in all of the. And I used to feel like I lived in two worlds. I lived in my business world and I lived in the other part of my life. Uh, and, and that moment my worlds merged and I felt like, okay, I’m just me.
[00:19:49] I I’ve been given God given talents and then to put them to use in all of all facets of that.
[00:19:58] Zach White: This is striking a deep cord of resonance with me, for everybody who knows my story. I also experienced the pursuit of ambition, leaving me in a moment where divorce was, was happening and rock bottom. And so, so Ken, if somebody is hearing this, maybe it’s not divorced, but there’s something going on that feels like that rock bottom moment.
[00:20:18] Or you feel like you’re. And a downward trajectory in your career, in life. would you say to someone if this was a mentee or somebody is just like, Ugh, I feel connected to that energy. Like what does it take for somebody to make the shift to, to, to bounce back and actually start moving in an upward trajectory again?
[00:20:38] What, what would you give them if they’re really feeling that way right now?
[00:20:38] Ken Whah: For me, it was my faith. Uh, and to let it go, it was the only way I was still holding onto it. So tight that, you know, on a dream. And I, I had to let it go. And once I let it go, then I could take a breath and okay. You know, now the whole world opened up because there’s lots of more options now. What, what, what options do I have?
[00:20:58] Your talents and your gifts, uh, versus this path that I chose, that I put on my back, that I’m not being successful at you, let it go and say more. Okay, take a step back. What am I good at? What, what I, what, what talents do I have? How do I put some of those in action in all parts of my life? How do I become with my talents?
[00:21:22] Be a better. How do I be a better spouse? How do I be a better father? How do I use these in my church? And, oh, I can use these at work too. And, uh, and then you tend to find not only a combination of your talents, but you find some passion around it, too. You end up finding a new passion and you combine passion and talent.
[00:21:42] Watch out people, people go on fire then.
[00:21:47] Zach White: Yes. Yes. Combined passion and talent. So if we take that well , let’s shift to the person who is on the upward side there, they’ve got the passion and the talent, you know, they’re, there can, after that rock bottom moment and you’re, you’re taken off. What have you found in terms of career growth?
[00:22:07] Are the points where the biggest. Changes in your mindset and leadership were required. So you had a, you’re a CEO now you’ve, you’ve literally held almost every position you can hold in some capacity. I’m sure there’s exceptions, but like you’ve done all these things at what points in the journey. Did you experience like the biggest stretching and growth required to keep moving up?
[00:22:31] Um, and specifically the, maybe the vertical side of the conversation, more so than functionally in terms of, of breadth, what do you think those points were that really demanded you to totally shift and grow in a big way? I
[00:22:44] Ken Whah: think, um, the way I approach. Uh, different roles in, in a lot of cases, I was moving into a function in a more senior level at the same time.
[00:22:53] So. Uh, when I, when I moved, uh, in, into sales, I was moving into a sales leadership role. And then when I moved into logistics, I moved into a more senior logistics role. And when I moved to hands, then I moved into a CEO role in a completely different capacity. So it’s hard to disconnect those two for me. Building my career path to CEO was full of variety and different challenges.
[00:23:10] But, um, but what I will tell you is the approach. Uh, I knew there was going to be somebody that says you don’t know anything about this. How on the heck did you get selected for this? And so I was always ready for that answer is like I got selected because I’m not experienced in this area. I’m bringing a new perspective.
[00:23:32] I’m here to be a leader, not a functional expert, and functional experts are who I need to hire to do specific jobs appropriately. But when you’re talking about leading an organization, what I’ve noticed is have you ever had a boss that’s a functional expert that got promoted into a leadership position, guess what they want?
[00:23:53] They want to do your job all the time. Right. And so, uh, it’s, it’s tough. You know, when you were in, when I’m in another function. When I jumped into sales, I knew nothing about sales and I jumped into list logistics. I knew . Nothing. Well, just to expand it, freed me. It allowed me to be humble. It allowed me to learn from everyone and, and I’m not confrontational.
[00:24:11] It was more, Hey, I know you’re the expert. Teach me what it is and teach me about this area and tell me how I can be a better leader for you in this. And it, and then it, I never wanted to go do any other jobs because I didn’t have time to learn their jobs to begin with. Right. So I became a good person at understanding the strategy, understanding the structure under 10, understanding talent and who was, who was good at what they did and making sure we fill holes, move people to other roles and got people promoted when they needed, you know, when they had great opportunities.
[00:24:43] That’s what I’d tell you is, is making me realize that I can be an expert in an area that I haven’t been in because I bring a different perspective to that area as a leader, not necessarily as an individual contributor,
[00:24:58] Zach White: this is brilliant. And I want to replay it for the engineer listening, because I hear all the time people who are afraid we might use the imposter syndrome.
[00:25:06] You know, phrase that comes up a lot around this when it comes to promotion or reaching that next level, you know, am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Am I talented enough to lead these people? And they want to be that functional expert and the leader. And not to say that, like Ken had it easy by switching functions at the same time, but it forced your hand that you actually were not the expert and to, to show up that way.
[00:25:29] But engineers, whether you’re switching departments, you’re doing sales. Or you’re within engineering. The attitude that Ken just described is extremely powerful to say, I don’t have to be smarter than every person on my team. In fact, it’s best for me to be the leader and not the functional . Expert as I step into those, those roles.
[00:25:50] And you know, how, how can you right now, engineer shift that mindset in yourself? Um, that is that’s super powerful. And I think sometimes we, we don’t realize how much we’re, why. To be the functional expert in everything as we move up within engineering, because we do have an expertise to pull from. And that’s what got us to that point was . Being really smart.
[00:26:12] And now it’s time to stop being so smart and start simply pleading. So that’s awesome. Uh, Ken, what about at the, the sea level? Just one more quick curiosity for people who have the aspiration to maybe be a CTO or build a career path to CEO one day. Is there anything that is unique? About success where you’re at today versus, you know, director or, you know, engineering manager type of
[00:26:35] Ken Whah: absolutely.
[00:26:36] I mean, you’re, so far removed from the day-to-day that you’re talking much, much larger. Uh, what is your mission? What is your vision? What is the culture that will help you get there? How do you embed the culture? How do you deploy the strategy? How do you have a management system? For your whole company to make sure that, uh, that the strategy is what is getting worked on.
[00:26:59] And the other things are not getting worked on that people are being held accountable and, uh, given the responsibility to make decisions at the right levels in the organization that the right talent and they’re in the right seats, uh, that, uh, that you have a talent development program. For, for every single person, not just the ultra elite, you know, but the, but every person has an opportunity to add value everyday and that they have the opportunity to grow their career where they, where they want to putting those systems in place at a much, much higher level, uh, are critically important to making sure that the company will thrive.
[00:27:37] Zach White: I’m curious if you would agree with this statement can one of the things that I’ve seen is when a leader individually, you know, an engineer that we’re partnered with at a OACO for coaching, for example, when they start to ask those kinds of questions about their own life, what is my vision and mission in life?
[00:27:56] What’s the DNA or the values and the culture. That’s important to me that I want to show up and live out every. For myself and having integrity to that and starting to experience, life on, on those terms that matter most to me and balanced the way I it’s such a such, when you start to do it for yourself.
[00:28:14] Then having those conversations within the organization, it starts to make more sense. It starts to connect and it helps you to prepare for those higher level leadership roles. When a lot of people, especially I see like first director role and they start asking new questions about culture and vision maybe for the first time, but they’ve really never sat with those ideas before.
[00:28:33] And now they’re trying to solve the problem for the accompany, but they’ve never actually even thought about that for themselves. Do you agree? Like that’s a good place to begin if you’re an engineering manager or you’re at a lower level today to start learning about these principles of like, be the CEO of your own life, if you ever want to be CEO of the company, does that align with you or would you frame it differently?
[00:28:55] Ken Whah: I like what you’re saying, because you do have, you, you are in control of your own behaviors. You are in control of how you react to things. Uh, those things are foundational to who you are as a person and how you are . Viewed as a person. So, yes, I mean, you’re not going to get. Everyday by any means, but also that’s a behavior that you want to show is that humble, you know, that humility of, Hey, in front of everybody, I messed up.
[00:29:20] Um, and I don’t always get it. Right. And, uh, and I’m sorry, you know, that’s a great behavior to have in this world. Right?
[00:29:27] Zach White: That’s a tough one.
[00:29:31] Ken Whah: And, but I’d also say. What I’ve noticed is that those who, uh, are focused on themselves and in a, you know, and going into one-on-one meetings or going into, uh, it’s good. I mean, it’s nice to know that they are past. But when you see somebody passionate about either a customer benefit or, or even a behavior that they want to see changed at the company or a community impact that we want to have as a company that, that passion around that is so contagious and, and you, and you see people on fire, uh, that, that it goes way beyond the I now is no longer about the eye.
[00:30:07] It’s about, yeah. We must do this as an organization and, and you, and you see that passion. Uh, so I would try to find what you’re passionate about. Right. Uh, if you haven’t figured that out yet, and then that’s a bit of self exploration too, but what, what breaks your heart? What ticks you off? There’s your linked to some of your passion there on what you want to . See different, for this company and for its success.
[00:30:31] I mean, I I’d say 99% of the people I meet, they want their company to be successful and they want to have a great product out there that they can, they can tie their name to right. Find your passion around. It’ll take you a lot further than you going to say. I want, I want to be BP one day. I want to be CEO.
[00:30:48] Zach White: That’s powerful. There’s a phrase inside the Waco company, you know, mission and vision statements I won’t go into all the detail, but there’s a statement that’s really important to me. It says it’s not about us. You know, never was about me and it never will be about me. that’s really a good reminder to make sure that we’re not.
[00:31:04] All about us in our career building and life. Ken, there’s so much I’d love to dig into, but I want to respect your time and get you out of here as promised. And, uh, I’m sure the engineer listening has a career to get to and keep building. So let’s, let’s wrap up and I always ask this same question at the end, and I’m excited to hear your perspective.
[00:31:22] I believe great engineering. You know, it’s got in common with great coaching that the questions bleed and answers follow, and I know you’ll recognize that statement from. OPEX training at Whirlpool Corp, you know, questions, lead answers, follow. So let’s ask great questions if we want to get great answers.
[00:31:33] So if the engineer listening to this, you know, as a leader, they, they want to be successful and happy. What would be a question that you would lead them with today?
[00:31:47] Ken Whah: I think the theme of what we’ve talked about here is what is your, why? I think whether it’s your personal, why on what your talents and why you’re here? What talents are you supposed to be leaving . Behind and giving and serving list, but also what, why at your company are you linked to, why does your company exist?
[00:32:10] And, uh, yeah. Uh, and where can you add value and connect those dots where the company’s, why and your why intercede, you’re going to find the success. So my question to you is, do you know your.
[00:32:23] Zach White: Awesome. Do you know your, why within your life, within your work, within your family, within your faith? Do you know your why?
[00:32:31] All right. Amazing engineers. You’ve got some work to go do. If you don’t know those answers, dig in. Get help. Talk to those trusted friends, coaches, mentors, advisors, and take action. Can, if somebody would love to just learn more about you, your company, the things that you’re up to in the world, and they wanted to reach out, is there any best place that somebody could do that or stay connected to you and your.
[00:32:52] Ken Whah: Uh, LinkedIn, if you just do a LinkedIn message to me, uh, you can find me or, uh, Ken wa or under Hansen logistics, and just send me a message and, and mentioned this podcast. And, uh, and I will definitely reach back out to you.
[00:33:04] Zach White: Awesome. So there you go. I’ll put links to that in the show notes on Oasis of courage.com for everybody who wants to find Ken, I don’t know that there’s thousands of Ken was in the world, but if there are, I’ll make sure you land on the right one and kid.
[00:33:16] I can’t. Thank you enough again for your time today. This is.
[00:33:19] Ken Whah: Awesome. Thank you, Zach. I appreciate the opportunity.