July 8

Greg Derwart, Managing Director at Maryland Department of Commerce


Greg Derwart is a senior operations executive with over 25 years of professional experience in the private sector, government and nonprofit arenas. He serves as Managing Director for the Maryland Department of Commerce. In addition to heading up the Department’s Administration and Technology team, he is also taking a leadership role in corporate culture and customer experience, including Governor Hogan’s statewide customer service initiative. 

The Maryland Department of Commerce stimulates private investment and creates jobs by attracting new businesses, encouraging the expansion and retention of existing companies, and providing financial assistance to Maryland companies. The Department promotes the State's many economic advantages and markets local products and services at home and abroad to spur economic development and international investment, trade, and tourism. 

Podcast Highlights:

  • Build a YES customer service mentality within your org
  • Grow your middle managers if you want a powerful org
  • Stay true to your strategic plan, it allows for creativity while keeping you on track

Contact Greg:

[Podcast Transcript Using Artificial Intelligence]

Umar Hameed 0:06
Are you ready to become awesomer? Hello everyone, this is Umar Hameed, your host and welcome to the no limit selling podcast, where industry leaders share their tips, strategies and advice on how to make you better, stronger, faster, get ready for another episode.

Umar Hameed 0:36
Today, I'm privileged to have Greg d'oeuvre wart, the Managing Director of the Maryland Department of Commerce, and you guys just had a name change just to be commerce. Right? That's right. Right. All about efficiency I loves Right, absolutely. So Greg, tell us in 90 seconds, who you are and what you do?

Greg Derwart 0:49
Sure, I like to tell folks that I am a leader of cogs. So, throughout the past 20 years, my thread of experiences has been around administration and operations of organizations. So I head up our administration team here at Commerce, which includes human resources, it budgeting and accounts payable, facilities, management, fleet services, contracts, and procurement seeks to have the machine run. So basically, you know, I'm a visual person. So, you know, I have pictures of clocks around the office, because I like just that symbolism of the cogs behind the scenes that are all crucial to the operation of the organization. And it's even a part of the mission statement that we created for my team, you know, where we're, we're providing essential functions for the folks on the frontline,

Umar Hameed 1:43
Greg, so we get a better idea of who you are, who is your favorite superhero? And what's the attribute that speaks to you?

Greg Derwart 1:50
Not just Superman, but Christopher Reeves interpretation of Superman. So you know, I guess maybe that was the the first you know, I was probably eight years old when that movie came out in 1978. And I liked the the the humaneness of him. Yes, yeah. So so even though he was a superhero, and had all these powers, you know, he was also Clark Kent at the same time, and he had emotions and feelings and acted human in a lot of ways as well.

Umar Hameed 2:24
Because someone in your job could be a very analytical numbers person. And for you, that human connection is important.

Greg Derwart 2:31
Absolutely. Yeah, I think you know, what I look at the core roles that that are most important to me in my career is connecting with people and serving people.

Umar Hameed 2:42
So you've got an organization of about 200 people. Correct. So one things that a lot of people struggle with a lot of leaders is a how do we define our culture? And then once we defined it, how do we get it into the hearts and minds of people? Because way too many companies have their values written on the wall, but nobody follows us. Sure. So tell me about when you guys came in. Secretary Gillen, you Yes. What was the old culture? And what culture Did you want? And how did you go about making it happen? Sure,

Greg Derwart 3:13
sure. Well, as you might expect, state government just like any other government can be quite bureaucratic. There's a lot of functions within government that that can be regulatory in nature. So it's natural for government agencies to just grow in that bureaucracy. So when Mike Gill came in, in January of 2015, and I came in a few months after that, he talked about trying to change the culture so that we would be as anti bureaucratic as possible. He talks about creating a culture of Yes. So in other words, if you're a business, if you're a constituent, if you're a customer, if you're a stakeholder, if you have something that you're looking to accomplish, our initial response should be yes. Okay. Mike talks about how 80% of the time we can accomplish that, yes, ninth issue, may take some work and eventually get there, and maybe that 10th issue, we'll never be able to figure it out. But at least, you know, nine out of 10 times, if you start with the attitude and the expectation that yes, we're going to solve your problem, we're going to help you we're going to make life easier for you. That's the right mindset to start with.

Umar Hameed 4:33
So this is a hypothesis on my part, because I don't know. But I would suspect if you went from the old regime, how things were to the new and you've got this new vision of Yes, first, some people are going to be difficult to get on board. And some people will get on board but the very next word from yes is going to be but sure. So how did you overcome that? How do you actually get it you know, in the hearts and minds so actually people that are the citizens and business owners deal that change? Sure.

Greg Derwart 5:01
Well, a couple things, both looking internally and externally. We went through a strategic planning process early on, during that first year, and crystallized through a multi year strategic plan what we were looking to accomplish. So that becomes our blueprint nine moving forward. It sets the expectations of our customers. But it also sets the expectations internally as a team. And then I think one of the things that we've tried to accomplish is taking everyone's handcuffs off. What does that mean? Well, we talked about how so many entities within government operate in isolation, or in silos, if you will. And we're trying to create a culture in a situation where we encourage collaboration and interaction with team members internally and with other agencies. There's a lot of interaction and, and cross pollination between agencies that are business facing, when you look at Department of Labor licensing regulation, Department of assessments and taxation, several other agencies like that, you know, so we've created a commerce sub cabinet where there's seven cabinet level agencies that are all business facing, they get together, those secretaries get together every other month, and talk about big projects. And we talk about customer service, we talk about workforce issues, so that we're synergizing and interacting with each

Umar Hameed 6:30
other. Can you give me an example of like one of those synergies that came about where that just made the customer experience better?

Greg Derwart 6:37
Sure. Here's an example. There's a lot of development going on over at the old Bethlehem Steel plan in Pharaoh's Point area, and Baltimore County, now owned by a company called Tradepoint. Atlantic and they're redeveloping the land this space for businesses to utilize. So whether it's Under Armour, or FedEx, or Amazon, there's been opportunities for commerce, as well as the Department of Transportation for from an infrastructure standpoint, the Department of the Environment from a land use and stormwater management standpoint, where we're working collaboratively to make sure that that business entity is succeeding.

Umar Hameed 7:23
Brilliant. And for some agencies, that's a difficult thing to comprehend.

Greg Derwart 7:29
Yeah, I would when you asked about, you know, a new group coming in and how veterans were receptive or not to that. And I would say that, what's been interesting is that there's a lot of good people on the frontlines of these organizations that have been around for a long time. They've wanted to do good work, they've had ideas. And I think the biggest challenge, or the biggest opportunity for improvement for us, is that mid level manager, where there has never been, they've never provided any support, guidance, resources, empowerment of the good folks on the front line. And I think, as we look at customer service, standards, and training requirements, that's where our biggest opportunity for improvements gonna be.

Umar Hameed 8:26
I think so in middle management can make or break. Yeah, Greg, who is a mentor for you,

Greg Derwart 8:31
hmm. There's been many mentors in my life. Over the years, you could look at a teacher that taught me about presentation skills, I've had friends that have been mentors, from a motivational standpoint, from a spiritual standpoint. And of course, an overarching mentor throughout my life has been my father, basically, the voice of reason in my life, and in my best friend as well.

Umar Hameed 8:56
What's the best advice you've ever gotten?

Greg Derwart 8:59
Hmm, I think I could tie that into some of my favorite books, on motivation, and just how setting a mindset about a positive attitude can change the world change, you know, your whole aspect on life and how you approach it.

Umar Hameed 9:20
If you could have lunch with anybody historical figure, somebody living somebody fictional? Who's that person you'd love to have lunch with? And what's the question that you need to ask?

Greg Derwart 9:31
I'd have a lot of questions for him. But the one person that comes to mind is Ben Franklin, a history buff, particularly American history, American Revolution. And I see Ben Franklin is probably the the first American entrepreneur, you know, he led so many lives, starting as a business person with his printing business, that he franchised up and down the East Coast. to his scientific inventions, and then his Renaissance political, you know, and international political influence.

Umar Hameed 10:07
So the one thing I can't understand, I'm not sure if you got $100 bill in your pocket or not. But but this was not the the steadiest guy ever, but apparently he was one hell of a lady smell. Yeah, I can. Yeah. That's the story in Paris. And so yeah,

Greg Derwart 10:24
yeah, that's been pretty interesting to read in the different biographies. Yeah.

Umar Hameed 10:29
So I'm also an avid reader. Okay. I was reading Andy groves, biography. And he was talking about Intel, where they were trying to decide whether to invest in microprocessors, or whether they were dominant in memory chips, hmm. internal debates for a long time. One day they do this thought experiment. He goes to Gordon Moore of the Moore's Law fame, right? If we were the new people coming in, and the old crew got fired, what would we do? And this is something you'd been struggling with for eight months to figure out instantly, both of them say microprocessors. Like it's a no brainer, right? Yeah. New people coming in? That's what we would do. Yeah. This is legacy holding us hostage. Yeah. So if you were the new Secretary of Commerce, what would be the one thing you would change?

Greg Derwart 11:17
If I had the power to change anything? Yeah. Like, what would be the meaningful thing that you do for the state of Maryland? Well, it's funny. I mean, I think we're doing a good job. from a cultural standpoint. You know, we were doing survey data, looking at how our customers are reacting to the things that we're trying to accomplish. And the data talks about how we're doing a good job. from a cultural standpoint, we're being more customer focused, we're being more proactive. That culture of Yes, I talked about, one of the biggest challenges is this bureaucratic machine that we don't necessarily have complete control over within the parameters of the executive branch, right. And what I mean by that is, procurement regulations, you know, that require legislative action. There's so many things that we're still doing as a state that have 20th century processes, that are totally unnecessary anti business and just scare businesses away. So it's not a sexy thing to talk about. But if I could change one thing, it would be the procurement process.

Umar Hameed 12:24
Brilliant. Greg, one of the books I know that you like, is good to great. And what's one of the big takeaways? And how did you apply it to the Department of Commerce?

Greg Derwart 12:35
Well, we're talking about the concept of first who then what and getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. So when you look at hiring, in, you're looking at talent to hire, I've always felt that hire for character and cultural fit. You can always train someone on, you know, suit, the task is tasks. So if I have the ability to hire based on on character, and cultural fit,

Umar Hameed 13:09
is that's a win here. It's that you guys have gotten what you hired someone with those parameters, and they've just turned out to be a great employee.

Greg Derwart 13:16
Well, there's a lot of folks on the team that have come in over the past three years, Mike has used this model. So he's hiring people based on character, and cultural fit. And so when you look at his leadership, his leadership team, there's a lot a lot of great people that he surrounded himself with

Umar Hameed 13:33
leadership skills are really important. Right? And sometimes, leaders higher up in an organization get the very best education around that or come with it. Mm hmm. We had talked about middle management. Mm hmm. So how are you providing them the leadership education, they need to be great leaders? Sure,

Greg Derwart 13:51
sure. One thing that we needed to do when we came in because it was was in existence was we created a management team, you know, we have about 25, or more folks that are in management, supervisory roles, director level roles, and we would never get them together. So we created a management team, not just to have meetings, but to have them synergize with each other, so they can learn what they're doing in their respective units. We bring them together to talk about best practices and how we can improve the organization. We've also created creativity spaces. So over the years as an agency, we've downsized in right size. So in this beautiful building that we have here, we had some vacant offices, right? So what we did was we got rid of the desks, put some chairs in painted the walls with the writing level service. Yeah. And we encourage folks to go if you're having a hallway or water cooler conversation, and you just start bringing storming an idea we just have, we encourage folks to go into the into the creativity spaces, and write on the wall and just collaborate with each other.

Umar Hameed 15:09
And how's that transform the organization,

Greg Derwart 15:12
I think it's been a great way of getting crazy ideas just out in the open, and just seeing what sticks. You know, we have I told you about a strategic plan and and that gives us our anchor our focus. And there's six overarching goals within the strategic plan. So as long as if you come up with a crazy idea, as long as the lane,

Umar Hameed 15:37
six lanes, you're good, then go for it.

Greg Derwart 15:40
And then the other thing that I've learned, whether it's from Mike Gill, or some of the other great leaders in my life, is to encourage failure, and not all heads of an organization get that. And even personally, you know, I'm a type A person, I always want to succeed and do well. And I think the older I get, the more I realized that the value in having failures.

Umar Hameed 16:05
Yeah, and the meaning people make out of it. Yeah. Because some people think it's the end of the world and other people think, oh, my god, that was amazing. Well,

Greg Derwart 16:12
so and so as managers and leaders, not having as long as you don't hurt anybody or do anything immoral or illegal, you know, not calling someone out when there's a failure. Say thank you for trying something.

Umar Hameed 16:27
The governor's chief of staff Sam Malhotra. He's a former Chief of Staff. Yep. And he had he was in charge of Human Services. Yes. One of the things that he told me was that with his leadership team, that he had brought business practices to a government space. And rather than backlash or resentment, there was like a hunger for it. It's like, Oh, my God, this is where have you been all our lives? So how do you bring in new ideas and into making better business decisions? Sure,

Greg Derwart 16:59
sure. Well, it doesn't hurt having a CEO at the top of the organization that believes in that mentality and sets those expectations from the beginning, Governor Hogan, when when he created a customer service initiative in the summer of 2016, I talked about how he didn't set that up as a hope or a wish. It was a new expectation. This is the way we're going to conduct business. You whether it's implementing customer service improvement plans at each agency, coordinating that with Lean management and other process improvement philosophies, and providing resources through consultants and vendors and just exposing agencies to these private sector best practices. That's the best way to see that come to fruition.

Umar Hameed 17:51
How is the business community in Maryland grading Department of Commerce? Have those numbers changed?

Greg Derwart 17:58
Yes. We use survey data at Commerce and across all state agencies. From a customer satisfaction standpoint, we actually just went through a process over the past couple months and did a like a check in with our business customers, you know, how are we doing over the past few years, and we're getting great marks on how we're changing the culture and from a service delivery standpoint. Also, across all state agencies, we created a very simple three question customer satisfaction survey. That's on all agency websites. And during calendar 2017, over 80% of all respondents said that they were satisfied somewhat or very satisfied with the service being provided to them. Nice. Yeah, yeah. And that was over 20,000 responses during calendar 2017.

Umar Hameed 18:54
One of the hardest things to do is to go from worker bee to frontline manager. Yeah, what would be three pieces of advice you'd give a new frontline manager to help them be effective,

Greg Derwart 19:06
be consistent and equitable in how you treat your team members? No special favors No, teachers, pets, right? Treat everyone in an in a fair and equitable way. Be transparent and provide clear communication and expectations. Use the performance management process and help your team members set clear and realistic goals. Use the review process, whether it's on a quarterly or biannual basis and use that documented process to track goals and expectations and have an open door policy. You know, if someone needs something from you, they need to feel comfortable coming to you right and not feel intimidated by him. And then the last thing I would say is, especially if if you're being promoted up within the same organization, it's, you can't be everyone's friend. It's almost like parenting. You can't be your child's friend that comes later on in life. Like, I feel like I've mentioned, you know, my dad is my best friend now, but he not when I was seven. So it's similar in terms of providing support for your team members, you, you can't just be their friend, you need to make some by that structural leadership. What's

Umar Hameed 20:31
something you know, now that you wish you knew 10 years ago?

Greg Derwart 20:34
Hmm, I think one thing that comes to mind is sticking with what you love. I have been blessed with many great opportunities in my career over the years. At one point in time, I probably went down a path that I thought was going to be beneficial to me, I got into a situation and a role where it didn't work with my skill set. And I tried to just plow through it, and it didn't work out. So I think at the end of the day, I should have reminded myself and I wish I could go back and remind myself to stick with the stuff that you love.

Umar Hameed 21:10
Great advice. Are there any books you'd recommend? Hmm,

Greg Derwart 21:14
there's there's lots of favorites on my bookshelf. Whether it's the power of positive thinking, Franklin's auto biography, Stephen Covey's seven habits. Heck, the Bible is a great resource, you know, from from a leadership standpoint. But if I had to pick one to recommend to folks and one that I buy for, for young people, often is Napoleon Hills thinking grow rich. Why it just, he went on a 20 year journey he was he was utilizing Andrew Carnegie's offer to be introduced to all of his friends back during the turn of the century, to go interview them and figure out what made good leaders tick, right. And he took all this information and compiled them into this book. And it's been a core tenant of how I've tried to leave my life as well. Brilliant. Thanks so much for sitting down with me. Yeah, my pleasure. It's been fun. If you enjoyed

Umar Hameed 22:22
this episode, please go to iTunes and leave a five star rating. And if you're looking for more tools, go to my website at no limit selling calm. I've got a free mind training course there that's going to teach you some insights from the world of neuro linguistic programming, and that is the fastest way to get better results.


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