Forward Atlanta Campaign Celebration, July 1998
Left: Rob Radcliff; Middle: Sam Williams, President & CEO of Metro Atlanta Chamber; Right: Mike Trubiano
Roy Williams, President & CEO,
Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce
“RDG has managed four funding campaigns for us and each time our expectations were exceeded by a well-planned, well-executed, professionally managed process.”
If you want to read a great story about how we started and what we are all about, keep reading.
“I’m not sure if you are stupid or brilliant!”
Those were the words of Charles McFall, President and CEO of the Anderson, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and Resource Development Group’s (RDG) first client in June of 1996. You see we had left our former employer with a few carry-over engagements, but this was our first legitimate client; the first time we had found, pitched, competed and landed a project entirely on our own.
RDG was first known as Capital Funding Strategies, a name derived from in-depth market testing and a solid 15 minutes of strategic discussion over more than a few Heinekens. As original co-founder Mike Trubiano explained it, “we lived in the capital city of Columbus, Ohio, we raised funding and we tried to be strategic about it ….. Capital Funding Strategies! Plus, we didn’t have to pay a marketing firm one dime to come up with the name!”
You can learn more about each of us HERE, but the important thing to know about our pre-RDG careers is we both spent a decade in politics – as staff aids and lobbyists – which meant we knew how to “spin” a story, and we also had gained some incredible experience in the economic development industry working for a company known as The Suddes Group. At Suddes, we had the good fortune to work at the feet of some incredible teachers – Tom Suddes (God rest his soul), Jim McGraw and Mike McCarthy, who between the three taught us some amazing lessons about what to do (and not do) when managing an entrepreneurial enterprise.
Most importantly while at Suddes, we had the opportunity to manage some of the largest economic development capital campaigns (at the time) in the country at very young ages – Chambers and EDO’s in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Phoenix, Fort Worth, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Washington DC, Columbus, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, St. Louis among many, many others. Not only did we gain great experience but unbeknown to us, we were building a network that still lives today!
RDG was born out of a desire to offer a better product to our constituents and attain a better quality of life for ourselves. We felt by being more efficient and targeted both in terms of who we worked with and how we managed projects, we could raise more money, with less time away from home and that would be good for us and the people who hired us! Not rocket science for sure, but just solid, pragmatic thinking, which by the way is the cornerstone of how we do our work.
You see at the time we were travelling four-five days a week, often to and from the west coast, while trying to maintain somewhat of a normal lifestyle with seven young kids between the two of us. We wanted to build a great company and also watch our kids grow up. In order to do that we would have to work smarter than our competition, and that is exactly what we have strived to do for the past 25 years.
We’ve learned a lot, most of it by trial and error. You see, no business school teaches you how to get your first client, manage cash flow, navigate an industry that is hyper-susceptible to economic swings, or maneuver terrorist attacks, global meltdowns and pandemic-spawned economic nightmares. Call it on the job training, the school of hard knocks or whatever other cliché you prefer, the bottom line is we’ve been blessed with really good instincts, and we aren’t afraid to follow them.
That just might be the most important thing for you to know about our company. Our “system” isn’t grounded in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits, Tony Robbin’s Giant Within or any other of the many, truly great narratives on how to be a better leader (yes, like you we read them all and glean what we can). Rather, our foundation was some genuinely great mentoring, some truly unique professional experiences early in our careers, a ton of intestinal fortitude and a willingness to be nimble, creative and innovative. We don’t think like the other guys and we don’t do things like the other guys!
After Charles’ Board of Directors voted to hire us, we retired to his office where he pulled out a bottle of Jack Daniels, poured us each a couple of robust fingers, leaned back in his chair and said “now tell me the real story of how you guys got started”. I proceeded to explain how we had worked with our former firm for six years, managing increasingly larger markets and spending literally all of our time away from home.
We had conspired for a year about how to leave ethically with a client or two and never figured it out. We finally decided it was time to fish or cut bait so the Sunday after Thanksgiving in late 1995 we met the owner at a local coffee shop and told him we were leaving at the end of the year to start our own company. We had no clients, no business plan and no network but we felt like we had a great idea and could make a go of it. He said “thanks for the six weeks’ notice but I really don’t need that much. You guys are done at the end of the month (in three days!), good luck to you and by the way, you won’t be receiving those bonuses!”
“Did not see that coming!” were the first words out of my mouth when we got back in the car, followed closely by “WTF are we gonna do now?”
Well, what we did was take a trip! Mike and Rob’s excellent adventure! We crafted a trip to three of our major metro clients with Suddes, cashing in all of our frequent flier miles and staying with relatives to save money. Our instincts told us it was important to meet them on their turf and look them in the eye when we told them the news. We weren’t asking for business, but rather their blessing. We learned three very valuable lessons on that adventure that stuck with us:
This is a people business – it’s not brands, advertising and gimmicks that generate business; it’s integrity and trust. Be honest, tell the truth and you will be rewarded.
Sometimes you have a network even when you don’t know you have a network! Nurture it every single day because nothing will pay greater dividends over time.
People WANT to help – this might have been the biggest eye-opener to us. If you do good work for someone and they like you, they will open their rolodex and try to help you. It was incredibly gratifying and humbling to witness that firsthand.
When I finished my tale, Charles took a sip, raised his eyebrow, pondered for a moment and then spoke those infamous words… “Boys, I’m not sure if you are stupid or brilliant!”
To this day, that mantra is what drives us because it captures the true essence of our firm – don’t be afraid to think different, think big, make mistakes and take the road less traveled because that is where real success is found! We believe that has been true in both our professional and personal lives and most importantly, holds the key to prosperity for our clients and friends.
Thank you for reading and we hope you enjoy your journey as much as we have enjoyed ours!