Small Giants

Small Giants Summit 2019


“The reason to be in business is to have a good life.” – Bo Burlingham


I need to mow the yard, plant the new bushes sitting in pots in front of the house, and clean the gutters because it’s been raining all spring. But I’ve been traveling, and the folks at home have been left with these tasks. It’s always hard to be away, isn’t it. And as I get older, I’m pickier about what I choose to do especially when it takes me away from home.


Small Giants Summit

That’s why I signed up for the annual Small Giants Summit held in Detroit, Michigan. I’ve been a big convert to the Small Giants philosophy of purpose-driven business ever since I read Bo Burlingham’s book 5-6 years ago. Early on, I attended a couple Passport events–small gatherings of like-minded business leaders who have the opportunity to visit companies that embody purpose-driven leadership. But before this spring, I’d never attended a Summit.

Attending conferences or meeting new people isn’t extremely easy for me. I’m more of an introvert than a social guy. But I firmly believe spending time with people who “prioritize purpose and people over profit, and greatness over growth” challenges me to think differently. And that’s who you meet at a Small Giants event, folks who open you up to new possibilities and remind you of what’s important.


What’s a Summit Like?

Let me tell you a little bit about what a Summit is like. First of all, you spend 2 ½ days learning with and from entrepreneurs and business owners who run businesses that focus on purpose BEYOND profit. These are highly successful business people who run thriving, innovative companies. Here’s where they are different from your average business leader–they aren’t satisfied unless they’re doing good too.

Take a minute to think about this. It’s not all about multiples, EBITDA, and growth. Sure, these companies are healthy and strong in these areas, but that’s not what drives them.

They derive meaning from their work beyond pay, power, and growth. And they’re not defined by their businesses but rather by their purpose in life. It’s not business as usual at a Small Giants Summit.



Purpose-Driven Leadership

Logistics is cut-throat and fast-paced. Trust between transportation partners is hard to come by in a landscape where folks are always looking for the bottom dollar while technological disruption keeps everyone on their feet and trying to beat the crowd to the next best thing. It’s easy to get caught up in the fever. There’s always something new going on. Autonomous technology, blockchain, and Amazon’s entry into the freight brokerage space are only a few of hundreds of potential disrupting forces.

And, as in any endeavor, financial and business success can bloat ego. It’s easy to get carried away, to forget that success can also be measured by the lives you touch, change, and better–starting with your colleagues. It’s why I love Small Giants so much. The people you meet at these events are true servant leaders. What do I mean by that? A true servant leader is someone who refuses to sacrifice company culture or purpose to achieve growth and profit.

According to the Small Giants website (check it out, there is so much excellent content), servant, or purpose-driven leaders share a common set of qualities that include: purpose and core values, leadership based on values, a culture that puts employees first, financial transparency, meaningful relationships with customers, and the establishment of deep community roots based on service and commitment.

You want to be a better person when you spend time with these people. They make you smarter. You learn so much from the conversations, sessions, and bus rides. Yes, I said bus rides. During our trips to area businesses in Detroit, we rode in cool, refurbished old school buses.  


Engagement with Peers

And the Summit is a great time to reconnect with friends I’ve made at other Small Giants events, as well as, meet up with the folks in my Virtual Peer Group. I’ve been participating in the Virtual Peer Group for the past year and a half. It’s a once-a-month 90-minute conversation with other purpose-driven leaders. We receive and offer mentorship and share stories and resources. I’d never met, in person, any of the people in my peer group, so that was pretty cool too.

The Virtual Peer Group is a great example of the Small Giants atmosphere. Safety. No, I’m not talking about physical safety, I’m talking about the other kind–emotional safety. Like I said, I’m not an extrovert. I don’t love going to new places, or striking up conversations with people I don’t know, but even for me, it’s easier at a Small Giants event. It’s safe to ask questions and to talk about struggles or mistakes you’ve made. I even walked up to a group of strangers and said, “Hey, I wondered if I could join your conversation.” And you know what? They made space for me in the circle, greeted me with a smile, and genuinely seemed interested in who I was. If you get anxious in new situations, you’ll understand what a big deal this is.


The sessions I participated in ran the gamut from the importance of culture and how to give and receive great feedback to an in-depth discussion of asking the right questions. I came home with a renewed desire for AM Transport to be better, to up our game, to make more of a difference in the community and the world. I came home with new friends and the confidence to practice vulnerability. I came home grateful to know these small giants are out there, and they’re running terrific businesses with the purpose of making things better for everyone they touch.