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Among the sports paraphernalia displayed in Larry Mondry’s office is a blue-and-maize banner touting the University of Michigan. Stream’s new president and CEO, who hails from the Great Lakes State, tells me about a practice he’s borrowed from one of the school’s legendary football coaches, Bo Schembechler. Every time Mondry attends a salesforce gathering, he closes with the chant, “Stream, who are we?”—to which they respond, “The team!” This goes three rounds, concluding with, “The team! The team! The team!” A team mindset and culture are key, Mondry says, to taking the business to the next level, which is what he set out to do when he joined Stream in February. DSN spoke to the former CompUSA head about his transition to direct sales and Stream’s transition from energy to a range of lifestyle services.
DSN: Being new to the direct sales channel, what have you found particularly applicable from your past experiences?
LM: I think it’s understanding the motivations of people—understanding it at a simple level. I started as a salesperson, and that’s primarily what I still consider myself to be. When my kids ask, “What am I going to do? What am I going to be good at?”—I always tell them they need to follow their passions. If you follow your passions, do it well, put your heart and soul into it, the money and all the other things will probably follow. To me, direct sales epitomizes that. Historically, my strengths have been about motivating people, about seeing and appreciating the sense of satisfaction and joy that someone has when they’re successful, and I think this is it in one of its purest forms.
DSN: What drew you to direct sales from a traditional retail model?
LM: Initially, I had no interest whatsoever. I had no interest for two reasons: It’s primarily an energy business, and I had no background in energy. The second was that it’s direct sales, and I had never done that before, and had spent very little time understanding it; therefore, many of the views people traditionally have of the industry resonated with me. … However, the more I looked at the company and the industry, I became very comfortable with the idea that selling the product was no different than selling all the other things I’d sold in my life, whether technology, consumer electronics or auto parts. I didn’t know anything about auto parts; I still don’t know that much about auto parts, but it doesn’t matter. It’s about understanding people and how to motivate them, coming up with good strategies and objectives, following up, and creating a winning, fun culture.
A few years ago, I did some consulting for a rent-to-own business. I had all these preconceived notions about rent-to-own. They take advantage of customers, they charge too much. … At first I felt that way and was very sheepish about it, but as I spent time with our folks in stores, I realized I wasn’t seeing it. I had customers literally come up to me and hug me, because it was the first time the family had a washing machine or a computer for their kids, or whatever it might have been, and I recognized it wasn’t so much that anyone was taking advantage of anybody. They were providing things that, in the current system, people hadn’t been able to get. That understanding helped me have a more open mind to many things and take the time to understand what a businesses is really about. In the case of Stream, the culture is terrific. It’s definitely a servant culture, with the employees serving the Associates, and the Associates serving the customers. That’s exactly what I like.
DSN: What objectives are top of mind as you take on the role of president and CEO?
LM: At 100,000 feet, I was not brought in to maintain anything. … I came here to grow this place and be part of putting together strategies, systems and people that are capable of growing this in a meaningful way. … One thing I talk about a lot is the three-legged stool. For a retail business of any kind, you need all three legs to be healthy and support what’s above them. First, everything has to be good for the customer, and then for whoever interfaces with the customer—the Associate, in our case—and finally, everything has to be good for the company. … Once you get all those strategies and people in place, it’s about blocking and tackling every day. It’s teaching. I spend a lot of my time wandering around, sitting in someone’s office, leaning over someone’s cube, spending time with them. Sometimes it’s just asking how their day is going—and if you ask, invariably people will tell you. But a lot of people don’t ask. Engaging helps people understand that I see them as a human being.
DSN: Stream now offers energy, protective, mobile and home services. What’s next in terms of product evolution?
LM: I’m looking at two general approaches to that. One is line extensions within those existing areas. Then, there are things that go beyond that, which don’t necessarily fit neatly into one of those four boxes. We’re engaging feedback from customers and so on. … We’re going to look at anything that is good for our customers, good for our Associates, and good for our company.
DSN: What factors have eased the transition from Stream Energy to Stream, a provider of essential home services?
LM: First, I’m thankful I wasn’t the one to start that. That’s difficult. There’s no question some Associates just think of the company as Stream Energy. It’s something that needs to be overcome, but I think there are some folks who will always feel that way. The majority are getting the fact that there’s great opportunity, in terms of providing good products and services, to go beyond energy. It’s our responsibility to help raise awareness, and so far so good.
DSN: You recently experienced your first annual salesforce meeting, Ignition 2016. What was your takeaway from the event?
LM: I didn’t know what to expect and frankly, I thought, it’s a sales meeting. I’ve done hundreds of the things. It’s not that big of a deal. … Partly I got it, and partly I didn’t. The idea of the big extravaganza—I’ve been there before. How our Associates viewed it and their attitudes, was different. These people were loving it. They were seeing their old friends. They were drinking it up in a way I’ve never seen with anything else I’ve done, in similar or even larger groups. It’s a family, and they believe in that and exhibit that warmth and spirit you only find in a family. … They made it easy for me.
One thing I tried to do was tell them a bit about me, my family, and what makes me tick. Then I talked about their why… it might be one of many things, but at the end of the day, one thing we all have in common is that we do certain things for our families. We do them because they count inside. So I arranged for 40 or 50 kids of Stream Associates to be on stage, and that turned out to be a very popular thing. I think the people started to understand that for me it wasn’t just about words. It’s actually how I live and what I believe, and maybe, even though I’m the new CEO, I’m more like them than they think.
DSN: Stream has a history of giving back, but you recently rolled out a formal philanthropic program. What is the vision for Stream Cares?
LM: I think it’s the responsibility of any company, first of all, to treat their customers and employees right, but we live in a society today where you have to go beyond that and treat your community right—that means all parts, not just the ones that can help you pay your bills. That’s a general moral obligation we all have in society, not just as individuals but as companies. I like the fact that Stream has begun to formalize its philanthropic process, but I think we still have work to do. This is the beginnings of doing that better, and it’s my hope we’ll be able to participate in our communities in a bigger and better way as we go forward.