In A World Podcast – Erica Brune – Lever1

 

Erica Brune, President of Lever1, is a 2014 Rising Star of Kansas City! Kansas City Business Magazine awarded Brune in February for her innovative approach to leadership and remarkable success story.

Under Brune’s leadership Lever1 has become an emerging professional employer organization (PEO)— recognized by Thinking Bigger Business Magazine as a “Smart Company to Watch” in Kansas City. In the last three years Brune has continued to accelerate professionally. She offers 15 years of human resources and strategic fiscal reporting that has led to a 45% financial growth year over year for her companies. As President, she drives new business relationships, product innovation, and efficiencies that give Lever1 clients the freedom to focus on core business goals.

Brune was instrumental in bringing several pro-bono clients to Gragg Advertising and Lever1, including the City Union Mission and the Summit Theatre Group—where she currently serves as Treasurer. She also established the Gragg Gives Back program which now averages 15 employees facilitating various community service events each month.

Brune is responsible for the vision, strategy, execution and financial outcome for Lever1 and has balanced these responsibilities while volunteering her time with local organizations. Brune is truly a Rising Star to be watched and possesses a contagious spirit that makes everyone she interacts with strive for excellence professionally and personally.

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-Transcript-

Brad Burrow: Hello, this is In a World with Real Media. I have Erica Brune here with us today. Erica, do you remember when you and I met? I think it was through City Union Mission Project if that’s right?

Erica Brune: That’s right, it’s had to been ten years now.

Brad Burrow: Yeah, I remember we having breakfast with Dennis. Dennis said, “I need you to meet somebody.”

Erica Brune: Yeah.

Brad Burrow: So, you’ve worked with him quite a bit over the past few years, haven’t you?

Erica Brune: Oh, quite a bit. Especially on that women’s luncheon for almost a decade now.

Brad Burrow: Yeah. Anyway, I thought I’d just read a little bit of your bio so people can know a little bit about you. I’ll have this on the website too. President of Lever 1, Kansas city based PEO, or Professional Employer Organization, we might need to actually define that for some of our listeners. Providing human resources, payroll, employee benefit solutions. Within five years of launching Lever 1, Erica helped drive the company to become Missouri’s fastest growing company of 2017. Wow, that’s amazing. That had to feel good.

Erica Brune: It did, it’s still I think sinking in.

Brad Burrow: It’s still hard to believe that? That’s a good accolade. Ranked number 44 in the nation by Inc Magazine. Women Presidents’ Organization recently named Erica number four in the 50 fastest growing, women owned, led, companies. Boy that was a mouthful of 2018, so another incredible things happening.

Erica Brune: Yeah, we’ve been growing over the last couple of years, and it’s really exciting.

Brad Burrow: So this idea, were you a part of coming up with the idea for PEO? How did that come together?

Erica Brune: We formed the PEO in 2012, and honestly I think it originally was a suggestion of a corporate structure from our attorney.

Brad Burrow: Is that right?

Erica Brune: Right. Our ownership group had recently acquired our seventh business, and we took my team and broke it off to form Level 1 to be a PEO for our book of business, our co-owned companies. We really fell into it thinking it was a way to structure a portfolio of businesses, and very quickly learned that it was something much different, and could be something really big, which we’ve turned it into.

Brad Burrow: So you did it for your companies and thought, “Wow, we could market this to other companies.” Or, “There’s a need for this.”

Erica Brune: Absolutely. Not only is there a need, but it’s a huge industry. I went to one of the first industry conferences right after we formed thinking I was going to get a lot of education, which I did, but I also got a lot of ideas on how to grow because everybody that starts a PEO traditionally is doing it to grow it, not just to service their own companies.

Brad Burrow: The great thing about it, the more it grows the better it is for everybody that’s involved. Right?

Erica Brune: That’s right.

Brad Burrow: Is that how that works?

Erica Brune: That’s right, and business growth obviously is good for many businesses, but for us specifically each year we’re trying to build bigger and bigger groups of participants so that our products and services can be competitive, and the rates can stay really competitive.

Brad Burrow: Yeah, which is a big deal. I mean, health insurance alone.

Erica Brune: That’s right. So, when we started in 2012, again really great timing with the Affordable Care Act rolling out, and small and mid-sized business owners having very few option at once could be competitive, and they could be measured on the usage of their own plan. They were converted into paying just based on the age of their employees. In some cases that was a real disadvantage for them.

Brad Burrow: I can tell you from our standpoint, that is a disadvantage to me. It’s really expensive for us to provide health insurance, just health insurance.

Erica Brune: Yeah, not only is it expensive, there’s just very few options as well for a small business owner.

Brad Burrow: Right. I guess the thing where my mind goes is why do we not know more about PEOs? It seems like, I don’t know maybe it’s just me, but I don’t know much about it.

Erica Brune: Yeah, the industry has been around for nearly 30 years surprisingly. It started in Florida, and has a huge presence in New York, Texas, California, the coast, are familiar. There’s almost 400000000 work side employees using a PEO, so it’s big business, it’s just not widely known in the Midwest. In addition PEOs are traditionally competitors to your standard insurance agency. We don’t want that to be the case with the Lever 1 relationship, but typically there are not a ton of referral sources out there because again, their more thinking that it’s a competition than a partnership.

Brad Burrow: Yeah. So, what are your referral sources? I know you have business development team, but who would refer you guys, the typical, would it be small businesses owners like us?

Erica Brune: That’s right. Our current clientele obviously refer us because they’re finding good value. It’s pretty conversational for business owners to complain about their cost of benefits, or access to benefits, so it comes up fairly quickly. We also have a network of advisers and what they call industry brokers if you will, out in the country that are business influencers and meet with businesses, and help match them with the PEO that’s best for their business. We’ll get leads that way as well.

Brad Burrow: When was it in the process that you realized that you were on to something? Because you probably started this thinking… I would imagine you’re very entrepreneurial.

Erica Brune: Yeah.

Brad Burrow: As your approach to everything. When in this whole process did you look at this and say, “Wow, this has real potential to grow.”?

Erica Brune: I’ll tell you, right from the beginning. When I was at some of the industry conferences I could tell immediately this was big business and a huge opportunity. Excuse me. So I knew immediately that we had stumbled upon something that was really relevant and there were enormous resources to help grow and make your PEO profitable. I knew pretty early on. I will tell you, it takes a long time to build enough volume, and enough clientele to start realizing and of those profits. We’re still in that faith, every time we grow and every time we add new business we’re going to be reinvesting and adding resources to build our infrastructure. I think we’re right at that tipping point where we now have built that, we’ve invested in the right software, and all the programs that are needed so that it’s really a competitive product. Now we’ve just got to start growing some efficiencies internally.

Brad Burrow: You think about apps and the way we all do things now with our phones. Is that a big part of your future as well? You guys looking at ways to really connect with employees and employers through mobile technology?

Erica Brune: Yes. The payroll software is certainly mobile optimized, as well as a time and attendance software that we built, so that has mobile capabilities as well as some geo targeting features so that employers can really know where their employers are when they’re clocking in.

Brad Burrow: Yeah, we can’t hide anywhere these days can we.

Erica Brune: No.

Brad Burrow: Yeah, that’s very true. Talk about Gragg, so your relationship with Gragg, that has to have helped you guys grow having access to the resources they have not just financially, but from a creative standpoint, all of those things. Would you agree with that?

Erica Brune: Oh, 100%. Not only were they our first client, we were able to launch our business with our sister company Gragg Advertising as a client in the PEO, having an advertising agency as a start up small business is really helpful.

Brad Burrow: A big advantage.

Erica Brune: Even to this day, we have not changed our logo, or our branding. People compliment us all the time, and we’ve had Gragg create that for us before we even launched so that was a huge advantage as well as website, and marketing material, and public relations. We always say I’m a start up, but not really. We are, we’ve just had an enormous amount of support from Gragg.

Brad Burrow: It’s better to start-up that way. I mean you think about the start-ups that have no resources to start. It’s a lot harder to start a company that way.

Erica Brune: Oh 100%. And I’m seeing now in the business community, you see some of these huge scaling companies that are giving private equity money and things like that. This isn’t their first go around usually.

Brad Burrow: Right. You can’t just have an idea and go out and get resources like that.

Erica Brune: Unless your Mark Zuckererberg, right?

Brad Burrow: Yeah. Very much so. I want to talk a little bit about your career.

Erica Brune: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brad Burrow: I didn’t realize until I started kind of digging in a little bit, that you started at a law firm. Is that correct?

Erica Brune: Yeah. I graduated college. I went straight to New York City, worked a law firm there for ten years.

Brad Burrow: That’s a long time.

Erica Brune: It is. I loved it.

Brad Burrow: So you loved being in New York.

Erica Brune: Absolutely loved it.

Brad Burrow: Tell me a little about that experience. What were you doing at that firm?

Erica Brune: I worked my way up from entry level to their chief administrative officer through the ten years that I was there, doing exactly what I do today, which is help their business succeed by taking care of all of the things that aren’t their core business. Payroll, HR, operations, facilities, you name it. That’s what I’ve done my whole career, learned everything I know on the job. The culture of New York City, the work environment, the culture of the legal industry specifically. In New York City I was at a law firm on 42nd and 5th avenue. These professionals were highly successful working 12 plus hours a day, expected perfection on everything and not in a cruel way, just truly that was the level of expectation that they worked to. It really helped set the tempo of my work career, and of my own personal expectations and what I wanted and how I was going to work, and how I found what success looks like. It’s not putting in the 12 hours, it’s just being at the top of your game. I loved it. It was a really great opportunity for me.

Brad Burrow: So that was, what a great way to start then. You learned all of these great skill sets that you might not have learned somewhere else.

Erica Brune: Absoluteness.

Brad Burrow: And in New York, did you live very close to where all that was happening, and all that experience? That had to be awesome.

Erica Brune: Oh yeah. I did the typical path of living in Jersey City, New Jersey, and then made a little bit more money you could live in Washington Heights way up at the top of the island, and then eventually to the upper west side, and have the dog walker, and the doorman, and quite the Sex in the City lifestyle for a young woman starting her career. It was a ton of fun.

Brad Burrow: So what brought you back to Kansas city?

Erica Brune: Well I’m from here, and all my family was here. I had been working there for ten years, fantastic career, but I was still single, and I knew I wanted to settle down and have a family. I didn’t see that happening in Manhattan. So eventually decided to see if I could find a similar career in Kansas city. That’s when I stumbled upon Gragg Advertising.

Brad Burrow: Yeah, so what a culture change going from New York City living in that lifestyle and moving to Kansas city. Was it great? How was that?

Erica Brune: It was great because this was home. My family was here. I had a ton of support. I tell you, I still think that at the law firm they’re probably still showing up to meetings with a legal pad and a pen, and the moment I walked into that advertising agency, and you don’t go anywhere without your laptop, and this was 12 years ago.

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Erica Brune: It was definitely a different culture.

Brad Burrow: And so you were at Gragg for, it looks like a couple years before. Is that when Lever 1 started?

Erica Brune: Yep.

Brad Burrow: Almost three years?

Erica Brune: Yeah, three to four years, and then we broke my team off. I still feel like I’m at Gragg, or part of Gragg. We do their accounting, and their HR. I’m doing the same work for Gragg that I always have done, other than we’ve grown, and so I’m able to bring in people to do some of the work operationally or in the HR role that used to be just me, and now we’ve got a team servicing them. But we’re both in the river market, and we’re meeting weekly if not daily.

Brad Burrow: How was that going from the culture of a law firm, probably you mentioned still writing notes on notepads, going to Gragg which was probably a lot more creative, a lot more you know how us creatives are. We’re a little bit more free flowing. You know?

Erica Brune: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brad Burrow: That had to be a little bit of a culture change for you.

Erica Brune: It absolutely was. I’ll tell you that I think I brought with me some of the more regimented business processes, and I think Greg Gragg really appreciated that. I think that was one of the things that he valued in me coming over, is let us go do what we do and you keep the ship afloat on the back end with invoice reconciliation, or operational, or hours of the employees. Hopefully I was able to add some value there without…

Brad Burrow: It’s like wrangling cats with the creatives.

Erica Brune: Yep, and even tracking down all the invoices from a creative project you know, all the bids, and the quotes. We’ve spend a lot of time focusing on that operationally to insure the agency can be profitable, because as you know it can go one way or the other pretty quickly.

Brad Burrow: Yeah, and tracking hours, I have to tell you from our standpoint, it’s hard getting creative people to do that.

Erica Brune: Oh for sure.

Brad Burrow: “Look you need to just write down what you did.”

Erica Brune: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brad Burrow: “Tell me what you did this hour.” Then I have something to go back to and then I’m talking to a client and said we had this many hours in it, “Well why did it take that long?”, “Well here’s what we did.” You know?

Erica Brune: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brad Burrow: I’m not just making those numbers up, but it’s really challenging getting people in the creative side who think differently. Were different. Our minds are different.

Erica Brune: Yeah.

Brad Burrow: I’m kind of in the middle by the way. You’re probably more, is it left brain?

Erica Brune: Left, yeah.

Brad Burrow: Boy, it’s a challenge, and it’s not because they don’t want to do it. It’s just they don’t think that way.

Erica Brune: Right, but it’s critical and not only that people are recording it, but they’re all doing it the same way. You go to a meeting, everyone just dumps in general agency… It’s like, “No, we’re only meeting because of a client.” You know?

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Erica Brune: And getting everybody to do it the same way is almost as challenging as getting them to do it at all.

Brad Burrow: So you’ve learned how to wrangle those creative minds, and get them in line.

Erica Brune: I tried. We created a lot of processes, but it’s just like any management role. You’re going to continually review and make sure the data then is worth something.

Brad Burrow: Is that the key, getting a process for somebody for somebody that’s creative, like, “I need you to do a, b, and c.”

Erica Brune: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brad Burrow: Do you think that’s what it is? Or is it just more of a, “Hey I need you to get into this routine. You’ve got to do this everyday.”

Erica Brune: Not just creative people, but anybody as a manager when you’re trying to move the ship in one direction or another, making it as easy as possible so there aren’t barriers, and then I’m trying to actually complete it. Understand and conveying the importance of, “This agency isn’t going to be profitable if we can’t bill our clients accurately. All of this will be for nothing.” Right? So having them understand the bigger picture of why we’re doing it, and then continually inspecting it, just constantly staying on top of it. That was my role originally at Gragg is just continually looking at that, retraining. Train, retrain, inspect. That doesn’t change. That’s universal for any industry your in.

Brad Burrow: Yeah. That’s something that small businesses struggle with. If you could figure out how to monetize that to small businesses, I think you’d be a millionaire.

Erica Brune: Okay, I’ll work on that next.

Brad Burrow: Okay. We’ll talk about that.

Erica Brune: Yeah.

Brad Burrow: So Blue Chair, what is Blue Chair?

Erica Brune: Right as we were launching Lever 1, I think Lever 1 was maybe our 8th business, we created the holding company Blue Chair so that it was just an easier organizational structure. Blue Chair is a S-Corp and that’s where the four owners Greg Gragg, myself, and two others live, if you will. And then all of our businesses are disregarded LLCs. It’s really a business structure. Each company is completely autonomous, has it’s own set of books, it’s own accounting, it’s own bank accounts. It runs completely independently, but then it all flows together at the ownership level which we call Blue Chair.

Brad Burrow: Let’s transition a little bit. What’s the future look like for Lever 1? Obviously you want to keep growing. Is there anything you can talk about, like, this is on the horizon that maybe thing is going to change the business?

Erica Brune: Sure. We are…

Brad Burrow: Put you on the spot didn’t I?

Erica Brune: Yeah. We have recently in the last year, at least from our industries perspective grown from a small PEO to a mid sized PEO. That was a huge accomplishment. We have enough clients and work side employees participating to put us into that next level. It does open the door for us to get more creative with the product offerings that we have in terms of not just health insurance, but in any of the lines of insurance, any of the programs that sometimes are only applicable to very large employers. So we’re at that place now where we can really take the basic services that we offer and start doing things a little more creative internally with them. We this year really invested in building out our leadership team because of our growth we knew what once I could cover four departments, now I can barely manage myself. Right?

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Erica Brune: So we brought in some really heavy hitters, a CPA to cover our tax and accounting, and an operations person to just, hey look, we’ve done all of this the way that we know how to do this. But now, let somebody else who’s done this for 20-30 years come in and look at what we’ve done and make us so automated and so fool proof that we can grow and triple our employee count.

Brad Burrow: That’s key to scaling, right?

Erica Brune: That’s right.

Brad Burrow: I mean you’ve got to have a lot of those processes happening automatically.

Erica Brune: It’s a hard decision though because we’re at the point where we could actually make some money at this, but instead we’re going to spend that money to build the infrastructure again, take us to the next level and then hopefully scale again three times. That’s a hard decision, certainly for investors to say, “Yeah, we’re seven years into this. Let’s keep reinvesting every dollar we make.” But that was a commitment we all made that this year we’re going to build out that team, and one it’s a commitment to our clients. These are people we know. These are people that work side by side with us in Kansas City. A lot of times, there a client to Lever 1 and Lever 1 is a client to them. We’re thrilled that we can grow together in that way as so we want to make sure that we have the highest level of professionals servicing them and taking care of the business so that it’s sustainable for both them and for us, and then really start adding another big round of growth, a big push there, then I promise my partners that they’ll make some money at this at that point.

Brad Burrow: That is a tough decision.

Erica Brune: Yeah.

Brad Burrow: This is our 22nd year in business.

Erica Brune: Wow.

Brad Burrow: And we’re kind of the same way.

Erica Brune: Right.

Brad Burrow: Not on the level of Lever 1, but you know. Our technology changes constantly.

Erica Brune: Oh my gosh, your assets here, yeah the statement.

Brad Burrow: I think just on our, I have on my books over a million dollars of depreciation.

Erica Brune: Wow.

Brad Burrow: And that’s 20 years of buying equipment, then it becomes obsolete and it’s just sitting there. But you can sit back and say, I’m going to go as long as I can with what I have, and maybe that works.

Erica Brune: Right.

Brad Burrow: Or you can be out on the front, and your buying everything new as it comes out, which I don’t agree with that. Somewhere in the middle is, I’ve got to keep up to keep growing my business.

Erica Brune: Right.

Brad Burrow: Or to stay competitive. It’s challenging.

Erica Brune: Right. Or to deliver the highest quality which your clients may or may not even technically realize. Right?

Brad Burrow: Right. I totally get it.

Erica Brune: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brad Burrow: For you it’s investing in people it sounds like, maybe in technology as well.

Erica Brune: Some on the resource side, but mostly the expertise, the head count.

Brad Burrow: Are you guys watching what’s happening in, I don’t want to get into politics, but there’s a lot of talk about healthcare. There’s a lot of talk about things happening, changing. There are people out there saying Medicare for all, that kind of things. How do you guys approach things like that, because that could change your whole business model something like that happened.

Erica Brune: Well, it’s important for us to not just be a healthcare company. Most of our clients really rely on us for full service. Any HR questions they have, payroll needs, safety, worker’s compensation, 401k, you name it. We’re their HR company. They may not need everything, but they’re usually using three, four, five things at least and finding value in that. We certainly in any business you know if you’re a one hit wonder that song ends at some time.

Brad Burrow: You’re in trouble.

Erica Brune: Personally, if there is a better solution to bringing healthcare to every citizen of the United States, and it is affordable, and it services our society, I am all for it. That is fantastic. In the meantime, we’re going to help business owners navigate through the best options there are on the market today. If we can solve the healthcare crisis, hallelujah. In the meantime, we’re here to help get them at least something competitive, and something different than what the can find on their own. Some of the other things that we do, I don’t see those going away. In fact I see them continuing to get more and more complex from the HR perspective. Every state is starting to create their own more complex and diverse state laws, paid sick leave, paid maternity and paternity leave, minimum wage. No matter what each state is taking their own opinion and making up their own rules which is fine, but that makes it even more complex for the business owner if you have employees in more then one state. I for see that to just continue to get more and more complex. That’s a great opportunity for us to show value to business owners as well.

Brad Burrow: Yeah, that’s a good point. I didn’t think about that side of it. You have to stay on top of so many things.

Erica Brune: Yeah, immigration now with I-9s any verify, huge challenge. That’s almost as challenging for certain industries as healthcare. They can’t find people to do the work, and they are fueling our economy and they have this great business, and it’s a needed business.

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Erica Brune: I mean, these are standard service providers that we count on, cannot find willing employees to do the job.

Brad Burrow: Yeah, it’s amazing. Just a little side note, I have my creative director lead animation guy is from Guadalajara.

Erica Brune: Okay.

Brad Burrow: He’s been with me for ten years. Incredible at what he does. We did animation for the Super Bowl couple years ago for NBC.

Erica Brune: Very cool.

Brad Burrow: I can’t tell anybody about it because NBC doesn’t want to… I mean I can’t go out and say that we did this.

Erica Brune: Sure, marketing.

Brad Burrow: That’s the level of person he is. I’ve been helping him and his family get their Green Card. That process was incredibly hard, and incredibly expensive. We had an attorney, a couple different ones for probably four years working on that whole process. Had to get a H1B, all this stuff which then we’re scrutinized as a company for doing that. We finally got it all done.

Erica Brune: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brad Burrow: I just can imagine how some of the companies that really are using immigrant labor, how their doing it. It’s just incredible how hard that process is. I mean, I think if you guys can help in that area that would be a huge growth opportunity probably.

Erica Brune: Yeah. So, kind of back to your earlier question whether it’s immigration, or healthcare, or HR compliance, our job is to help business owners not fall into any of those traps or fall out of compliance. As those regulations change, we feel pretty confident that our business model will be sustainable. Healthcare being the biggest need right now going into fourth quarter for sure.

Brad Burrow: That’s just where I was. That scenario, but I don’t think of the other things that you obviously are really locked in on that are important for bigger companies and that’s probably…

Erica Brune: And just everybody has different challenges, so it’s good that you’re humming on all the other areas.

Brad Burrow: Yeah, it’s only taken my 20 years, but I’m finally getting there.

Erica Brune: There you go.

Brad Burrow: Let’s talk about some of the volunteer things that you’ve done.

Erica Brune: Okay.

Brad Burrow: We talked about how we met, but we kind of reconnected on on Go Red.

Erica Brune: That’s right. American Heart Association.

Brad Burrow: Which was an incredible thing for our business by the way.

Erica Brune: That’s awesome.

Brad Burrow: So I owe you a big high-five on that one.

Erica Brune: Yay.

Brad Burrow: If you could see us, we’d be high-fiving right now. But that event really changed somethings for our business. We donated to it as well, but what a great organization, great event. Talk about what you’ve done with them.

Erica Brune: Sure. As a Kansas City native, I have had the good fortune of getting involved with a lot of different local charities and non profits. In business at Lever 1 we service probably close to 20 non profits.

Brad Burrow: Oh is that right?

Erica Brune: That’s right, because they are going to need health insurance. They certainly don’t typically have an HR professional on staff. The boards usually like the idea of them outsourcing to a professional company just to keep their eye on things, and make sure they’re running compliant, and then the healthcare is a big need for them.

Brad Burrow: Right.

Erica Brune: So were involved in the non profit community in that way, but in addition just being a Kansas City native, I have a big heart for the people in our community that are doing such good work.

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Erica Brune: City Union Mission being one of them, a big supporter and big follower of their mission and Gragg Advertising was our original connection there. They do quite a bit of marketing work for them pro bono every year and have for nearly a decade.

Brad Burrow: Yeah, we do too.

Erica Brune: Yep. They just do amazing work. American Heart I had got introduced to through a business colleague of mine, and was very passionate about the organization due to my brother having a heart attack at age 36.

Brad Burrow: Is that right?

Erica Brune: We have no family history, healthy, non smoker, not overweight, and just out of nowhere had a heart attack.

Brad Burrow: Is that right?

Erica Brune: Survived thank god, and is doing really well today, but that was my why, if you will. Once I got introduced I thought, wow this is something I need to give some time and resources and be a part of the movement of helping women understand that the number one killer for women is heart disease, stroke or heart attack. You think of cancer and all…

Brad Burrow: It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?

Erica Brune: Isn’t it? I mean all cancers combined, it’s still heart disease.

Brad Burrow: I was shocked to hear that.

Erica Brune: Shocked. It is. You still almost forget it because you just don’t always see the symptoms so spreading that awareness continually to my staff, and young women just so that they understand the risks. He was 2017, I co-chaired the Go Red lunch. That’s a year long effort, a commitment.

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Erica Brune: It was super fun. A lot of great events. They just do stuff all the time around the community to spread awareness about heart disease. That’s really their mission, is spreading awareness because heart disease can be prevented. That was a ton of fun, and we raised I think over a million dollars at that luncheon that year which was just powerful.

Brad Burrow: That’s incredible. I remember the shoot that we had here.

Erica Brune: Yeah.

Brad Burrow: Were you here that? You came for that. That was so fun.

Erica Brune: Yeah.

Brad Burrow: We had a place to take pictures. I’m like, we need to do that more often and I would love to have people over here to doing that. That was really a fun night.

Erica Brune: Yeah. they had featured women who were ambassadors of the Heart Association and then a giving society called The Circle of Red. If you’re in that group you get a headshot and are featured, and it’s really fun.

Brad Burrow: Women Mean Business, that’s been, and I’m trying to remember. I did the videos for Women Who Mean Business for years, Joyce Hayhow was running the editor or the…

Erica Brune: Business journal. Yeah, that’s right. She was editor.

Brad Burrow: Anyway, so Joyce and I have a long history of doing work together and she called me one day and said, “Hey we’re doing this Women Who Mean Business thing, can you help me with it?” We did it for 18 years.

Erica Brune: Wow.

Brad Burrow: I’m trying to remember if you were…

Erica Brune: I don’t think so. I was in 2016. And I would’ve remembered if was you.

Brad Burrow: Okay, so that might’ve been the year before that was my last year probably. Was Stacy running?

Erica Brune: That’s right, Stacy [inaudible 00:31:02] yeah.

Brad Burrow: So, anyway I have a long history. There’s some really funny stories around the first year. We were kind of figuring it out as we went, and we did it at Crown Center. You know I do the interviews.

Erica Brune: Okay.

Brad Burrow: Well, we literally had nowhere to shoot the interviews so I set up in a closet in Crown Center.

Erica Brune: Oh my gosh.

Brad Burrow: That’s where we shot the interviews for the event. I need to get Joyce on here sometime so we can talk about some of the funny things.

Erica Brune: Wow.

Brad Burrow: And then it grew and grew and ended up being at the Central Exchange and that’s where it was all the years from the ending were down there. We had some really, and I’ve made some great relationships through that. Always a lot of fun. How has that been for you? I know that all of the ladies get together and it’s real close even though it’s a really big organization now. I mean, it’s probably over 400.

Erica Brune: Yeah, I think it’s over 500 now.

Brad Burrow: Is it now, yeah, so.

Erica Brune: So the business journal honors 25 women each year into what they call The Women Who Mean Business class.

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Erica Brune: I was honored and thrilled to be selected in 2016. There’s certain criteria you have to meet, a very long application, recommendations, nominations, et cetera. I think over 100 women submit through all of that process. Once you’re in there’s a nice award ceremony where they recognize you through these videos and photos, and tell a little bit about your history so it’s a really nice award ceremony. The additional value is that it’s almost like a society, a sorority for women in business and it’s been interesting to follow those women that have moved on through their careers after joining and how many people work together, do business together, mentor each other, support each other. It’s truly one of the most powerful things that I’ve been a part of in Kansas City.

Erica Brune: There are quarterly luncheons, and then there’s a trip each year so it’s like going to a conference where…

Brad Burrow: Have you been on the trip?

Erica Brune: Yeah. I’ve been two or three times now. It’s like going to a conference with 100+ Kansas City business women.

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Erica Brune: And for four or five days you’re just, from breakfast to as long as you can stay up, networking, building relationships, that mentorship. What’s great for me is I live in small and medium sized businesses. That’s the only world I’ve ever worked in, that’s who my clientele are. That is what I know. I’ve been able to develop relationships with a few people who manage 5000, and so I’ll take a walk with them at this trip and just pick their brain. I’m like, “How do you even begin to manage a group that large? What does that look like? What is your meetings and your tasks? How do you break that down?” Their an open book. Some of that again, just being able to connect with people in like industries but completely different worlds too has been just so valuable.

Brad Burrow: What I’ve noticed just from the outside is everybody wants to help everybody.

Erica Brune: Yep.

Brad Burrow: So any question, you could call… I probably could too, I could probably call from the people I’ve interviewed and stuff and get help if I needed help on something.

Erica Brune: That’s true. People are so willing to help each other, but in that environment it breaks down that awkward ask. Right?

Brad Burrow: Right.

Erica Brune: So it’s hard for me to just Google somebody, and just shoot them a question. It kind of comes a little off guard, but in that environment it’s encouraged and welcome. So you kind of get past that, “Can I ask you a question?” To, “Of course. That’s what we’re here for.”

Brad Burrow: Amazing.

Erica Brune: Yeah, breaks down that kind of nervous barrier.

Brad Burrow: Yeah. So let’s transition. We’ll wrap up here pretty quick. Balancing family. So we’ve talked about your a baseball mom.

Erica Brune: Yeah.

Brad Burrow: I know a lot about that, and how much time that can take.

Erica Brune: Yeah.

Brad Burrow: You’ve got a lot on your plate. How are you balancing all that? What would you say to somebody that’s maybe thinking, “I’m overwhelmed. I can’t do all of this.”

Erica Brune: Well, I can relate to being overwhelmed, that’s for sure. I have three little kids, and a big job and so I will say that things shift year to year. Priorities shift and tasks shift, your job shifts. I’ve noticed for myself that now that my kids are in grade school and those activities like baseball games and things, are weeknights and right after school. I’ve found myself attending less and less networking events. That used to be something I did three times a day, and now that is shifted. And that happens, right? At fist you’re really out there making a name for yourself and making those connections. Now I have to be really measured about, if I do that then I’m going to miss something else. When my kids were really little, they didn’t have stuff at night. It didn’t so much matter. I could kind of stay home in the morning if I had night time stuff.

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Erica Brune: So, I’ve noticed that shift. I’ve also trying to be just really thoughtful about how many different things I can get done in a week in those networking groups and stuff. I’ve been able to build out a really great sales team that can start filling in some of those responsibilities that I used to do as well.

Brad Burrow: Do you find that delegating has been a challenge for you? It kind of is your baby, or has been, and giving responsibilities like that to other people is hard. I’ve found that’s hard for me.

Erica Brune: You know, delegation actually I think for me comes pretty easy. Maybe that’s just because I train on that skill and that’s kind of the world I live in. I’m fortunate to have really smart people work for me, so I’m kind of thrilled that I now have a CPA that can research these tax things much better, and much more effectively then I could. It used to just be me trying to do that, so at work at least we’ve got smarter people doing the good work. If I was in the creative role like you, I can see how that would be really difficult.

Brad Burrow: Yeah.

Erica Brune: We are at the spot where we’ve got some really good people. I still want to know the clients, and I still want to sit down with them. That’s been a challenge when somebody comes up to me and says, “Hey, I hear you’re working with so and so.” And I’m like, “Uh…” And I’m embarrassed, but I haven’t had the opportunity to get to know them.

Brad Burrow: And you can’t.

Erica Brune: No.

Brad Burrow: You can’t know them.

Erica Brune: At some point. So I would say that’s a little bit more unnerving when it’s your baby and you don’t even know some of the stuff going on, that makes me a little uncomfortable, but you learn to trust the good people you have working for you.

Brad Burrow: Yeah. I’ve heard a lot over the years doing women and me business interviews, one of the themes that always came back is people that actually grew their business had to learn how to work on the business but not in the business. I sense that you’ve done a pretty good job of transitioning from that.

Erica Brune: Thank you. I’ve always coached or trained people, when you’re talking about delegations, list out every single thing you have to do today, and then figure out who’s going to do it. If it’s left on my list then I’m doing something wrong. That’s a hard thing to do because we all get sucked into just answering emails really fast.

Brad Burrow: That’s so true.

Erica Brune: We like doing our work. We like doing our business. At some point when you’re a manager, you’re really just managing most of the time and not doing. That’s a really hard adjustment if you’re really passionate about the actual work.

Brad Burrow: The other thing I was going to say, is you must have a really awesome husband to be able to help you kind of balance all of those things that are happening. That’s important.

Erica Brune: I do.

Brad Burrow: I have an awesome wife, and without her we could not accomplish. I couldn’t accomplish what I’m accomplishing here and we couldn’t accomplish what we’re accomplishing as a family. She carries a lot of that load. She works full time so it’s got to be a…

Erica Brune: Well women can do two jobs at once really. Right?

Brad Burrow: I walked right into that didn’t I?

Erica Brune: My husband Mike is incredibly supportive. He also has a fantastic career, and we’re just very calendar oriented. We also have the good fortune of my mother who is our nanny/ chauffer and that’s been really critical for me to have the flexible work schedule that I do where I’m, night time event or things like that to have her around to help both Mike and I has been really helpful.

Brad Burrow: Alright, so lets go ahead and wrap it up but I want to get your advice for somebody maybe that’s new in the workforce that aspires to move up the ladder. You’re a great role model for that. What would you tell them? What should their attitude be? What should they be looking for? How can they navigate a path? Is it a follow your heart type of approach? Is it a plan? What would you say?

Erica Brune: I would say to lean in and say yes. That’s how I grew my career. I would see something and offer to take it, get it done, and to figure it out and fix it.

Brad Burrow: Proactively you would do that.

Erica Brune: Correct. Something needed to be done, “I can do that. I’ll work on that.” And it gave me the education and the knowledge of every aspect of whichever business I was working in. I wasn’t just siloed to doing just accounting, or just book keeping. “Hey we need to do this.”, “I can work on that.” Raise your hand. In my generation I think a lot of us are kind of known as workaholics, and that is not the desire for a lot of the younger generation. They really value that work life balance and so I respect that, but I think they can figure out a way as their growing their career to really figure out how to get involved in every aspect of the business in which you’re working because it makes you so valuable. If you only know your little piece, your not flying at the high level, your not talking strategically, and your not acting like a business owner. That was the key to my success.

Brad Burrow: We really do want to have people working for us that have an entrepreneurial spirit about them, don’t we?

Erica Brune: Right.

Brad Burrow: It’s so powerful.

Erica Brune: Right. If the toilet is broken either fix it or call someone. You know?

Brad Burrow: Usually I get to call. “The toilets broken.”

Erica Brune: Yeah.

Brad Burrow: That’s actually happened by the way. How could somebody get ahold of you, say a small business is listening and they want to look into PEO.

Erica Brune: Yeah, we’d love to. It’s easy to take a look and to get a quote and see if any of our services make sense for your business. It’s an easy thing to do. We are at Lever 1 .com, which is L-E-V-E-R numeric 1 .com. You can find us there. Our phone number is 816-994-1300. Give us a call and we’ll help you out.

Brad Burrow: Alright well thank you so much for being on the In a World With Real Media Podcast. It’s pretty good, huh?

Erica Brune: I like it.

Brad Burrow: That’s awesome. I should have every guest do it, in a world, like that, just that, go ahead.

Erica Brune: In a world with real media.

Brad Burrow: You have a future.

Erica Brune: I may.

Brad Burrow: We may have to get your voice demo together. That’s awesome. Well thank you so much. If you like the podcast please subscribe. It’s on iTunes, Spotify, Radio.com, Stitcher, Google Podcasts. There’s probably some more out there, but those are the main ones. Feel free to subscribe, and get a little notice every time we upload some new content and we’re talking to some great people. Thank you for listening and we’ll see you soon.

Erica Brune: Thanks Brad.

Brad Burrow: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

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