Sitting down with Michael Giuliano, one of the most influential guys you’ve never heard of

In interview by Jay Clouse

Over the last few months, I’ve gotten to know Michael Giuliano. Recently, we met up at the Columbus Idea Foundry and he shared some more of his story with me. We talked, got lunch, and I even showed him my favorite barbershop, Santarelli’s.

You probably haven’t heard of Michael – he likes it that way. But chances are that you or your company have used a product or service that he has worked on, or you have seen him with a few of today’s championship team’s coaches and players.

Michael started his career at Intel Corporation, where he earned awards and engineering honors spanning numerous high-profile product launches. He has led teams in M&A with P&L’s exceeding $11B for turnarounds, and has started and sold his own companies – now on his fourth, an electric vehicle startup in San Francisco.

He is most recognized as the United States Patent and Trademark Office owner of “certifiedlean,” having trained over 40,000 professionals worldwide in Shingijutsu-style Lean and Hoshin Kanri Strategy Deployment.

In 2014 he donated his “certifiedlean” mark to his alma mater, Ohio University, to increase student access to key learnings much earlier in the education process.

So that was a long intro, but who would you say Michael Giuliano is?

I like to help people compete at game speed, win, and have fun.

So what does that mean?

I help get the best out of people – that’s why we get along.

Can you tell me a little bit about your upbringing? You’ve told me you’ve been everywhere at the right time.

My Dad worked in Manhattan during “Wall Street” in the 80s, Iowa during the farmer’s drought, Cleveland during the fall of Steel, and I was in Silicon Valley at the peak of the tech-boom…

When we’re little, we’re not responsible for what our parents do, my Dad worked very hard for the railroad, and we happened to move where the action was. The extreme version that people know well is Bill Gates. He had very early access to computers because of his dad’s proximity to the highest end computer laboratories. He happened to be there at the right time and he capitalized on it. I’ve been in a lot of places at the exact right time, very lucky, very fortunate.

You played college football at OU, can you talk about that?

I was a four-sport athlete in high school (baseball, basketball, football, track). I had opportunities to play sports after high school at different levels. My dad wanted me to play football, so I played football.

Sports teaches you that no matter how good you are, there is a line of people better than you. You just may not know about it. Eventually you WILL see it as the world gets bigger. You will see it. It’s very humbling and it calibrates your talent level very quickly.

Sports teaches you humility and that life isn’t fair. No matter how hard you try and work, you could lose due to things that are outside your control.

Sports also teaches you the value of the true team concept – the name on the front of the jersey is always more important than the name or number on the back of the jersey. I talk about that in the BLUEPR!NT.

I want to get to the BLUEPR!NT in a minute, but you were also interested in Systems Engineering at Ohio University. Can you talk about how you got interested in that field?

Somebody told me I couldn’t do engineering and sports at a Division I level…so that’s how I picked the major.

And you must’ve liked it.

I like solving very complicated story problems, and engineering gives you the foundation and skillset to look at anything that’s going on, put facts to it, and get directionally correct very quickly.

The secret sauce is from sports and that brings in the people side of things. When you put the two together you can be painfully accurate and apply it to anything.

I know you’re still heavily involved in both the sports and corporate arena quite a bit, especially with the BLUEPR!NT. Can you give us an overview of the BLUEPR!NT and how you created it?

The BLUEPR!NT is a summary of my life and everybody that I found who was ‘great’ smashed all together. I studied systems in school, but in life I studied people. I’m intensely fascinated with anybody who is great at something, no matter what it is. It can be anything.

I happened to see sports, be in sports, be exposed to sports…and there were a few core components that the best all had in common. This is just my version of the “how.”

The BLUEPR!NT is my personal rules of engagement for any high-performing team. If I am going to work with a team, these are my bottom-line, up front rules of engagement. The elements are:

  • Presence
  • Intensity
  • Focus
  • Pride
  • Flow
  • BPO (Best Possible Outcome)

I usually start with BPO because that’s a mathematical certainty that’s derived from game theory and is simple math.

Can you give an example?

If I have a team of 5 people, and each person is doing their personal best at their 100%, then the best possible outcome for that team is their 100%. Doesn’t mean that’s what they’ll achieve 100%, but that’s their BPO.

If one person only gives their 90%, the team’s BPO drops from 100% to 90% just from that one person. If all 5 are going at 90%, they drop to a team BPO to around 50%. You limit your potential to a little more than half with most people going 90%.

And 90% is what most people call 100%. So that’s an example with 5 people – that’s basketball.

Baseball has 9, football has 11, so the numbers only get worse as the team gets bigger.

There’s obviously a correlation there with any professional team or organization as well.

If you can define a system or a process that everyone agrees to, but then you apply the “how” (the rules of engagement that are uncompromising) you have a system to give you the best possible outcome.

The BLUEPR!NT talks about the “how.” It combines the people part into how a team or organization can perform at an optimal level.

You talked about the BPO being math, and that seems to be straightforward, tell me about the other elements.

The first one is Presence. And I define that as Be Here Now. Engaged at all times.

Intensity is about playing at game speed, with no fake hype.

Focus means no distractions. No Hollywood stuff. Be in the right place, at the right time, every time.

Pride means that no one can be more prepared mentally and no one can be out prepare you physically. And you play for each other.

Flow is about moving as a single unit – not a group of individuals. It’s about choreography, communication, and that ‘pack’ mentality.

Do you think people are fully utilizing the methods behind the BLUEPR!NT?

No way, not yet. Not even close. Some high performers have…some positive change has been made…but what I want to do is share this with as many people as possible. It is from everyone and my intent is to continue to make it for everyone, so not yet.

So the sky’s the limit?

Of course.

This has been applied throughout 20 years of your work: athletics, academics, and corporate. Are they different?

They are the exact same. When I share the BLUEPR!NT, the delivery might be locker room talk vs. corporate talk depending on the audience. But people who run businesses need common rules of engagement within a known system they agree to and define, or you can’t get the best possible outcome. They will literally never be on the same page, so you have to provide the same playbook and put them on the same page.

It applies to everyone. I like to help people compete at game speed, win, and have fun, and this is how I do it.

Looking at your Linkedin, you have more endorsements than anyone I have personally ever seen. Heads of companies, heads of the military, and head coaches. And none of them seem to have anything to do with each other.

Here’s just a handful…

Mark Joyce, Intel:

Mike is one of the most impactful employees that I have worked with. Time and time again, Mike took charge and delivered the right solution (often times a new direction). Mike implemented Lean programs to Intel – the first introduction to our company. These teachings and programs have since successfully proliferated to all 80,000 employees.

 

Eric Knauf, SAP/Ariba:

Michael can cut through the fog of corporate environments. He is truly authentic. He has the capacity to cut to the heart of the matter, shed light on the stuff that kills success, and help the team frame a sustainable solution. If you are willing to face fear, shed light on growth killers, and check your ego at the door, Michael will help you exact real value in your endeavors.

 

Chris Rohe, President of the Board of Directors of the National Advanced Mobility Consortium (NAMC):

Michael has consistently demonstrated immeasurable and unrivaled talents in design, development, and launch of some of the most advanced technologies for arguably the most demanding clients in advanced mobility and new technology.

Over the past ten years I have yet to meet anyone that can listen to any idea and take it from paper to reality at scale faster than Michael.

 

Jason Grooms, Director of Operations Vanderbilt football:

[On the BLUEPR!NT and Michael’s player development program at Vanderbilt] It’s giving [our students] an invaluable tool to build their résumé and have something on there that a normal college graduate doesn’t have — and won’t have, because we’re the only ones doing it.

How did you connect with all of these people? Where did all these relationships and opportunities come from?

Some of these people are my neighbors, some are my teammates, some are my colleagues, but all of them have become my friends. It’s amazing what happens when your eyes are up from your screen. Magic things happen and you connect with people in actual reality.

I mean how did I meet you? I saw something on LinkedIn and got in touch with you.

Yeah you reached out, I suggested we jump on a call, and you basically told me f*** that, we’re meeting up in person. It was awesome.

What’s crazy to me is that to this day you have done this with no website and no business cards.

Correct.

Why? How is that possible?

The nature of what I do is private and discreet. Some of the best in business and athletics are letting me into their most heavily guarded and protected environments, I have to treat that with the maximum level of respect and privacy.

The topics may include launching a new product, changing an industry, mergers and acquisitions, turning around an executive suite, or working with high profile athletes and their coaching staff. These are some very private things that should be respected in the highest regard.

The results speak the loudest; after you help accomplish the task at hand, people tell other people through word of mouth, that social proof and demonstrated actuals is inarguable, and that keeps it going.

Do you think that will ever change? Will you ever get a website or business cards?

Business cards no, website yes.

What if you did market yourself and the BLUEPR!NT, how big could it get?

I don’t know, my focus is on the authenticity and effectiveness of the BLUEPR!NT – I don’t want it watered down or interpreted incorrectly, but I would like it to scale.

People hate being sold, so why would I go around selling this? The real recognizes the real from the fake hype. But raising some awareness of this could be a good thing, and I would welcome that of course.

You are constantly requested by name, so why not?

[Smiling] That’s a rumor…

When you started consulting in the early 2000’s, how many sessions were you doing in a month or a year?

It varied, I worked with up to 30 different companies and between 6 and 12 major college sports teams each year.

You get so much shit done, balancing all kinds of projects at once…it seems like you work more than you sleep. Can you talk about how you’re able to get so much out of your time?

We all have the exact same amount of time in a day; it’s how we use it. Systems engineering teaches that. You are either busy or productive, you are either an excuse maker or a playmaker, you either want to help people or you don’t.

When you’re laser-focused on a singular goal and have a set of rules that you follow, you know what’s a waste of time and what’s not and sort it accordingly. If I know what I stand for, I know what is my thing and what’s not. Anything that falls into the ‘not’ I just don’t do, period.

You learn this in sports: it’s a guarantee: whatever you’re not doing, someone else is. There’s always someone more hungry, more humble, with more hustle, who is coming for you whether you know it or not.

You put a big focus on people. Recently, you met me in a small coffee shop in Columbus, Ohio following a private, three-day sprint with one of the top ideation and innovation gurus just outside of Cincinnati.

Instead of flying to your next destination you drove two hours to meet me for over three hours to jam on Unreal Collective. Why do you put so much time and investment in people?

People run businesses, always have always will. If you do not understand the true core elements, the foundation and fluidity of the true team concept, how 5 or 9 or 11 people become great, then how can you possibly transform an entire department, division, or company? How can you impact the total enterprise without this foundation and total alignment?

It is 100% about people, process, performance, and alignment. Dr. J, Magic, Jordan, Kobe, LeBron all the best continue to evolve their sport and how it is played. Their window of time is relatively small, yet they all share the exact same winning habits, and their coaches all create the exact same winning environments, for them to thrive with their teammates. They reduce the non-essentials and put a singular focus on greatness.

If you don’t listen relentlessly to the people that live the details and make daily small changes through small improvement cycles, you will eventually fail. People run all aspects of all businesses, so I focus on the people systems, how they talk, communicate, like to work, and most importantly how the collective wants to operate to become their best. Not to imitate a car company or tech company, it’s all about enabling people to be their authentic selves and facilitate an environment that they can thrive in.

You’ve talked to me about consulting being a different industry today than it once was. What do you think about consulting today?

I respect that they have a job to do and there are many talented people that do so, but I have seen far too many self-proclaimed “gurus” and large firms focus on a hieroglyphic equation, long lecture, and leave resulting in a large bill and accomplishing next to nothing.

It is easy to lecture and leave, it is hard to work on the people side, to listen to what makes them tick and formulate something that works for them in their space. Not everyone can relate to being turned into a car company or have the talent and resources to be a tech company, and wearing jeans and having a ping pong table in the lobby doesn’t do anything.

Pulling back…I see you wearing a pretty big championship ring. Can you share who gave that to you?

A friend, a coach…he has won a lot of games – over 800. One of my favorite things about him that I admire is his authenticity and intensity, his dedication to his process – he is real.

When you are authentic and don’t listen to the noise of what people want you to be, you can focus on making the people around you their best, ultimately achieving greatness as a total team, you end up with a lot of rings.

I know you’ve worked on some books, including Hacking Work by Bill Jensen, have you ever considered writing a book?

Not yet, we’ll see, I’ll let someone else write it, I am not good at that stuff, people want to turn books into bibles and pontificate, they stop doing and they stop living in the now being present, they end up in the bleachers eventually too far from what’s going on right now. I believe that Bill is the exception, he is right now, he constantly evolves everything, I admire his work.

I talk a lot about the gap between where people are and where they want to be. Where are you now, and where do you want to be?

I’m in the gym, on the field, watching game film, sweating…I want to be with the people that are living it. It keeps you fresh, current, and real.

We need to unplug these devices and live in today’s reality. To unplug and connect with each other, that’s my goal to help people be the best possible authentic version of themselves individually and then collectively.

There is room for everyone; we can all win.

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You can connect with Michael on Linkedin.


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