Travis Cree | SENIOR ASSOCIATE II OF BIOMETRICS
AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT at ZOETIS

STORY HEATHER BAKER | IMAGE MITCH CONRAD/MATT CARUSO

Define leadership.
Leadership is mobilizing others to make a change, process, or environment.

Who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?
My boss in college, Dr. Damon Arnolds, was the first adult in a position of power that would sit down and ask my opinion and challenge how I thought about things. He really wanted to have a conversation that would push the envelope. A lot of our conversations were based around racial inequality or socioeconomic inequality. He was the first guy who really got me opening my eyes to something that I didn’t know or see or grow up in because I grew up in Vicksburg. There wasn’t a ton of diversity. There were socioeconomic disparities, but it wasn’t really that obvious, I guess, so I kind of grew up in a charmed environment. He was the first guy that really challenged that and challenged my thoughts on giving back.

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
The most important decisions are the ones don’t waste people’s time. There’s a lot of time spent around making a decision, and I’m more of an action guy. “What’s the problem? Let’s get a solution.” I prefer to go with the best information we have and move forward with the best possible solution. A lot of time is wasted in general, in both work and community, on “How do we do this? How does this work? Will this not work? Who will this upset? How will this fail?” In reality, it probably still will partially fail, if not completely fail, even if we didn’t sit around and talk about it for an hour. My general motivation to get things done is just not delaying the inevitable.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Empathy. People overlook the fact that the people that they’re leading are human, and they have real-world stuff going on. Work, for the majority of the people that I know, is the way to pay the bills. It’s not more important than their family or themselves. The best leaders that I’ve seen have the ability to focus on business when business is needed, and social when social is needed. It’s definitely a balancing act, but the more you can relate to people and the more you can have the ability to have an honest conversation, business or otherwise, I think the better leader you can be.

What’s the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
Not wanting to let go. A lot of our leaders are very controlling of their sphere of influence. The best leaders have the ability to give other people power and empower them. What we’re seeing now, in my company, is the start of people retiring. The majority of people that are retiring are in positions of leadership. Hopefully, people have been set up to be empowered, so that when others leave, day one, they are ready to jump in. There will be a learning curve but, if we continue to ignore that people are retiring at a fast rate and we’re not continually supplying them with the backup they need, we’re going to fail as a community, as an organization, and as a society.

Is there one behavior or trait that you are seeing derail more leaders’ careers?
Complacency. The lack of innovation, the lack of flexibility and a change in environment.

What do you do for fun?
I golf a lot. I don’t really know why besides that you can do it by yourself. You don’t have to have a team. I always played team sports growing up, so golf you can play with a buddy; you can play by yourself; you can play with tons of folks. It doesn’t really matter. It’s always challenging. Every day’s different, so that’s been a cool concept. My wife and I also like to go beer tasting, and it’s a pretty target-rich environment around here, which is nice.

What’s your “go-to” spot to eat lunch in Southwest Michigan?
The Union. They have that little porch area outside. It’s nice on the mall. It’s a cool spot because you end up seeing a bunch of different people in the community that go to the same spot, so it must not be just me who likes it.

If happiness were the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?
Probably something in the nonprofit sector. The things I do now are important for pets and for our food supply. It’s rewarding work and I’m good at it, but if I were to just go without money and just happiness, I can see something in the education sector—probably early childhood education.

If you could go to dinner with three people who would they be?
Bill Gates. Warren Buffett. Derek Jeter.

What are three things that you cannot travel on business without?
My iPhone charger, noise deadening headphones, and my golf clubs if I’m able to get away. If I’m going to somewhere where it’s going to be business only, then the third thing would be my computer. But if I have the ability to get away for a couple hours, I would play courses across the country.

Briefcase or backpack?
Backpack. When I first started here, they gave us backpacks instead of briefcases. It was the first wave of the new change. It works. It’s easier to travel, but I look like a kid as opposed to looking like a middle-aged man, I suppose. So, pluses and minuses.

Who would you most like to meet?
Jordan Spieth. It would be interesting to hear his perspective of being so successful at such a young age. Jordan just seems like a guy who’s not taking it too seriously, has had his ups and downs, but is living relatively large and enjoying what he does, which is a cool thing to do.

How do you get your most creative ideas?
Either playing on the golf course by myself or just getting ready in the mornings. I wake up an hour or two before my wife does and my dog doesn’t talk, so I have a pretty quiet morning. I can come up with some stuff then. I wouldn’t say I’m creative. I would say I’m more logical, so when an opportunity presents itself, I’m more likely to conceptualize it as opposed to thinking creatively or outside the box. It’s usually trying to figure out which way is the best way, kind of a harmonization approach as opposed to a creative way. My wife is the creative one of the two of us. She was the art major and interior designer, so she has our creativity covered.

What inspires you?
I would say seeing others’ successes. I don’t try to model myself on their best days, but I do try to model myself on their general progression. Seeing how other people have done it helps. Also, the support of my friends and family inspires me as their confidence in me definitely gets me going.

What are your daily routines that keep you developing as a leader?
Either reading a blog, listening to a podcast, asking someone questions. It’s a general information process. I wouldn’t say it’s day-to-day. It’s not like I wake up every morning and read an inspiring quote, and then that gets me going. It’s more of just general taking wherever I can get it. It’s more of a buckshot approach than a bullet.

What is your favorite leadership book?
I’d probably circle back to the Good to Great by Jim Collins. It’s my first dive into leadership books. I’m not a huge reader as far as the medium goes. I’m more of a movie watcher, a podcast listener. I don’t read a ton of books or listen to a ton of books.

What’s the App on your phone that you can’t live without?
It would be my podcast app. I listen to the Dan Patrick Show and the Free Beer and Hot Wings Show in the mornings. It has a little bit of news, but a lot of humor and it slices up the day. I’d say the second would probably be the music app. I’ve got Apple Music. I like listening to a ton of different stuff, and it’s readily available, which is nice.

How do you maintain your and your team’s daily motivation?
By general communication. I like to make jokes. I like to have a good time. We’re a very serious society, and we need to remind ourselves that people are people. They like to have fun; they like to enjoy what they’re doing. If it’s always constant nose to the grindstone, people are going to get burned out. That’s why I listen to the podcasts in the morning just to get my humor going because then I’m not relying on anyone else, and then hopefully I can provide it to people with whom I interact.

What are you doing to ensure your continued growth as a leader?
I’ve been taking folks out to lunch to get to know them and network with them. I listen to podcasts; I listen to books. I’m trying to be a knowledge sponge. Currently, I don’t manage any folks as far as a people manager goes, but I’m trying to set myself up so when that opportunity presents itself I am the best that I can be at that time. I’m afforded that opportunity to try and build myself so that when it’s my turn to play, I’m ready to go.

What excites you most about the future of Southwest Michigan?
I think it’s that it’s following a similar model to Grand Rapids. I lived in Grand Rapids for seven years in college, and so I’ve seen how that city has progressed with investing in infrastructure and businesses. You’ve kind of seen all of that happen with Kalamazoo ten to twenty years behind, right? I think we have places to go, but I think we have people that want to do it. If we’re able to retain talent, we’ll have a thriving society. It’s getting those folks to come back to Kalamazoo or stay in Kalamazoo, want to stay here, and raise a family,

What do you think are the most pressing challenges are facing leaders today and why?
I don’t think it’s unique to our society now: Over the last two hundred years, two thousand years, the leaders in societies have always been older folks. That will be a continuing challenge until we embrace the fact that some people under the AARP level can lead, and empower those folks. It is the most challenging piece because the folks that are in the positions of power typically have the most experiences. It just happens with time if nothing else. They’re put there for a reason. The issue is that if they’re retiring, leaving, exiting, or not empowering the next generation, we’re going to be at a loss.

What was the last book you read that had an impact on you?
I’m actually currently reading Good to Great by Jim Collins or I’m listening to it. It’s been my podcast replacement for the drive. It’s been interesting as some of those companies I’ve been involved with, including Upjohn which is the father company of my company now, and hearing some of the comparisons of what people wouldn’t see from behind the scenes and peeling back the curtain.

What’s one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
Micromanaging. A lot of folks are very, very smart and know what they’re doing. If you allow them to go through the process, they will succeed. They may not succeed as quickly as you would have succeeded as the leader but, in order for them to grow, they have to have a few bumps and bruises. Micromanaging, especially in younger folks, is detrimental.

What is your “Life Quote?”
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

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