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John Matise

Episode 054

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The Transparent CEO

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About John Matise

John Matise is an accomplished private equity investor and senior operating executive. He is currently the CEO and Board Member of Vege Labs, a local company he purchased with other investors in February 2021. Vege Labs has been in business for 62 years and is a formulator and manufacturer of beauty and personal care products for both international brands and local indie brands. John has served as the CEO of many different companies ranging from high-tech data analytics to basic manufacturing businesses in diverse industries, including beauty care, software, automotive, satellite communications, children’s products, and others. He has been a Managing Director and advisor of several private equity and venture capital funds, where he assists middle-market companies and entrepreneurs in growing their businesses.

Website: vegelabs.com

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John Matise Quotes

  • “What gets me motivated is mentoring people and growing the next generation of leaders.”
  • “Being the CEO can be very lonely because everyone is counting on you, and there are certain things you can talk about and others you can’t.”
  • “I’ve been a CEO for over a dozen companies ranging from personal care products to running an analytic data company, and many of these companies are facing the same issues.”
  • “I think you need to have a transparent leadership style. We’re all on the same team, and we need to make sure we are picking each other up.”
  • John Matise is currently the CEO and Board Member of Vege Labs, a local company he purchased with other investors in February 2021.
  • John has served as the CEO of many different companies ranging from high-tech data analytics to basic manufacturing businesses in diverse industries, including beauty care, software, automotive, satellite communications, children’s products, and others.
  • He has been a Managing Director and advisor of several private equity and venture capital funds, where he assists middle-market companies and entrepreneurs in growing their businesses.

 

john matise transparent ceo

WHAT IS YOUR CONNECTION TO THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY?

Vege Labs is one of the businesses in the local area. It’s been here since 1959, and Conrad and Helen Huffman started it. He was a hairdresser and launched a product called Vege Curl, and it launched the company after that. 

WHERE IS VEGE LABS LOCATED?

It’s at 412 W Cypress St, Glendale, CA 91204. It’s right on the San Fernando Valley and San Gabriel Valley border. 

IS YOUR PASSION RUNNING COMPANIES?

I’ve been blessed with some success in the past, but what gets me motivated is mentoring people and growing the next generation of leaders.

I am a part of this CEO peer group, and we compare business problems. I like to give more than I take out of it.

Being the CEO can be very lonely because everyone is counting on you, and there are certain things you can talk about and others you can’t. That’s why it’s good to have a peer group that faces the same issues and can help give you advice.

HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN BUSINESS?

I started as an econ major and graduated at 19 from UC Davis. I then worked for a management consulting firm, which gave me a lot of experience.

I was thinking about going to law school, but on day 1, I decided to take some time off, and I ended up attending business school at UCLA, getting my MBA, and working for an early-stage venture capital fund.

Because I had a lot of operating experience, I became the guy who would go in and help the entrepreneur or management team with the challenges they were facing.

YOUR COMPANY WAS INVESTING IN COMPANIES BUT NOT TAKING A MANAGEMENT ROLE?

Correct. Typically, we’d invest in a company, sit on the board of directors, and advise the company from a high-level overview. If something went wrong, they’d bring in additional resources, and because of my experience, I’d be the one to go in and help. 

In my journey, I found that this role of going in and helping out was more interesting than just sitting on the board or investing in a company. So, I created a business out of that over the next twenty years.

I’ve been a CEO for over a dozen companies ranging from personal care products to running an analytic data company, and a lot of these companies are facing the same issues.

DO YOU HAVE A PREFERENCE FOR WHAT AREA YOU FIX?

I think, first and foremost, you need to have a business model. You don’t have a viable company if you have a broken business model. Having a viable company means that the consumer can see the value, and the company can make a profit as well. 

WAS IT YOUR COMPANY’S PLAN TO INVEST IN A COMPANY THAT NEEDED A TURNAROUND?

What I love about the current ventures I’m involved in is that it’s a very good business that’s been around. What’s exciting about taking over Vege Labs is that it has a very solid foundation and business model, and I can build from that. I’m really excited about this.

I THINK A MARKETING PLAN IS A GOOD BUSINESS PLAN.

I couldn’t agree with you more. I think it starts with a strategy that there’s some value that the consumer will see, which comes to marketing about how do I communicate the value of this service to the consumer, which then goes to sales, how do I take the order and deliver the service.

Marketing is often overlooked, and for many companies that experience difficulty, one of the things they do erroneously is that they cut marketing. When really they need marketing to make sure they are connecting with the consumer.

HOW DO YOU IMPLEMENT YOUR LEADERSHIP STYLE?

I think you need to have a transparent leadership style. We’re all on the same team, and we need to make sure we are picking each other up. Building that team environment where we are all accomplishing the same goal is number one.

I work in a very transparent environment where I like to tell my team what is happening. We celebrate our wins and mourn our losses together.

I always want my teams to be aware of our challenges because they bring a solution that I might have yet to think of.

Another aspect of being a good leader is listening. Listening to what their employees are telling them. Listening to what their customers are telling them. 

DO YOU TAKE THE SAME TEAM FROM COMPANY TO COMPANY, OR DO YOU INHERIT WHAT IS THERE?

I’m a big believer in making sure you preserve the history and knowledge of the company that is there. I have had people who have worked with me at several companies. If people have worked with me in the past and are willing to work with me again, it is fulfilling because it means they’ve thought enough of me and the work I’ve done to come with me on a new venture. 

But I also want to ensure we keep the company’s history. I’ve seen some people take drastic measures where you lose that knowledge.

Another quality of a good leader is that they can empathize with both the consumer and the employee. When there is a difficult conversation to be had, I often start with, “I want to warn you that this is going to be a difficult conversation, ” so that it puts them at ease and sets expectations.

For example, something that I explain to our sales team is that if a customer calls us because we didn’t perform the way we were supposed to, it’s not bad. That customer is calling us because they care. They’re giving us feedback because they want us to be better. 

When the customer stops calling, it is bad because they’re getting ready to leave.

HOW DO YOU FIND THE BAD APPLES IN A COMPANY? HOW DO YOU DETECT IT?

When I entered this company, people asked me what my number one pet peeve is: negativity and negative people. I tend to thrive on positive energy and moving in a positive direction; negative people can ruin that. 

I try to get them out of the organization as quickly as possible. 

I also try to figure out what the root of their negativity is, and maybe there is an opportunity because I can get them in the proper role that will help turn that around.

WHAT WERE SOME OF THE STRUGGLES YOU FACED?

One of the most challenging ones was another personal care company I was brought into. I had worked with the company’s owners before, and they had brought me in to see if they needed to shut this company down.

‘Is the company salvageable or not?’ is a question I take very seriously. When you get involved with the employees, they can tell something isn’t right with the company, so you have to motivate the employees to do the best job they can, and you have to figure out a suitable business model and how you can finance it.

We had to make some significant changes to the business model, transition some customers to other companies, and transition some of the employees.

One of the hardest things I have to do is have a conversation about moving on from an employee who has done a good job.

DO YOU NEED A DEGREE TO DO THIS KIND OF JOB?

I don’t think it’s necessary, but it does help. There are lots of CEOs who don’t have the schooling, but it has helped me connect the dots.

HOW HAS COVID-19 AFFECTED YOUR BUSINESS?

It has been a lot more challenging than I thought. One of the most difficult things was finding people who wanted to come in. As a manufacturing company, you need people there physically, and you really can’t do it over Zoom.

Plus, I’m a people person, and I thrive on seeing the employees and being around them.

A couple of other things we’ve been affected by are the supply chain and inflation. They have really slowed down the flow of business, and we’ve had to have some tough conversations with our customers and suppliers.

HOW DO YOU KEEP A WORK-LIFE BALANCE?

I’m very active with my two boys and family. I’m an assistant Scout Leader with my son’s Boy Scout Troup. I lead high adventure tours, and that is an amazing experience. It really puts things in perspective and shows you how little you don’t need.

 

SGV III

What Are Your Favorite Places in the San Gabriel Valley?

  1. The Pasadena Civic Auditorium. This is because of the LA County Science Fair. I was able to compete in it, and it teaches you how to think critically. It’s also where they film America’s Got Talent.
  2. Colorado Boulevard. This is where the Rose Parade is, and I have memories as a child of getting up at 2 am so we could get a spot on the Boulevard for the Rose Parade.
  3. The Huntington Library. I sometimes do my best thinking when I’m alone, and I love going to the Huntington Library. It helps me take a step back and reflect.