Motili Interview Series: Ty Rivers, Director of Operations

Motili Leadership Interview Series Photo of Ty Rivers

Ty Rivers’ background in the Air Force, working as a sales representative and national accounts manager, paired with his MBA degree has landed him the role of Motili’s Director of Operations.

In this interview, we ask Ty about his background, his favorite part about working at Motili, a leadership book suggestion, which one of Motili’s values resonate the most with him, how culture is applied in his department, what qualities make a good leader, and what advice he would give to those aspiring to be leaders.

Will you tell us a little bit about you?

I grew up in Denver and went to Smoky Hill High School where I played football and ran track. After high school I went to college at the University of Colorado and was off on my own at 17. After college I joined the Air Force, where I continued to improve my leadership skills. 

Career-wise I had always liked the challenging appeal of sales so after the Air Force I pursued an opportunity at Motili. I started as an inside sales rep, and within a few months, I started closing deals on my own and bringing on clients. Within six months or so, I landed one of my biggest clients.

I ended up getting promoted to National Account Manager and, from there, I began traveling nationally. I had a new family at home, I was working full time, and just had a baby. I guess I decided five hours of sleep was too much so I decided to go to Denver University and pursue an MBA.

I worked on my MBA for a couple of years in 2018 to 2019. During that time, I worked full time and had a brief hiatus from Motili for a little bit, but I maintained constant contact. Right as I was finishing up graduating, I reconnected with Motili and came back for a new challenge – leading the contractor relations team, the field QA team and the bid desk team, which was exactly what I wanted – a professional leadership opportunity. 

What is your why? What makes you get up in the morning every day?

My why is people, always people.

My family first and foremost, and then the people that I come to work with every day here in our offices. My why here is that you look around and we have a great bunch of people. We have a great staff here. Being able to come in and work with people from all across every spectrum, essentially every demographic, it’s super exciting being able to touch lives both internally here within Motili, and also externally too in some of the work that we do.

Giving back to people, learning from everyone here around us, and offering insights from my experience – that’s why I do what I do.

What is your favorite part about working at Motili?

The people and the opportunity. In my brief background that I shared, I started at Motili in an entry level position. I had plenty of experience in the military which oftentimes, unfortunately, people don’t think that it necessarily carries over to the civilian life. I had to start over when I went into the civilian world. Perfectly fine with that, life is a humbling thing. You either are going to be humble or get humbled. Going from on top of one food chain into the bottom of another was a humbling experience, for sure.

I came in and saw the opportunity here, I saw it right off the bat, with a new and growing company. It never let me down since.

What’s great about Motili is you can get out of it everything that you put into it. I feel like I am an example of that. I started off again, at entry level, and worked up the chain of command to where I’m at now.

And for that, I’m always grateful for those that have offered me that opportunity and for everything that goes on here, because you don’t necessarily see that in a lot of companies. Often you see a lot of stagnation, but here at Motili, I believe that if you work hard for it, and you want to do something, and you set your mind to it, there’s always an opportunity for you. If you come in and you want to do a good job every day, even if you make mistakes, but you make mistakes going 100 miles an hour with the best interest of the organization and our customers in mind, then you are going to have a home in Motili. That’s probably my favorite part is the opportunity and the people here.

What would you say is the best book that you’ve read so far within leadership?

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Two former Navy SEALs wrote this book on their experiences and leading in the military. I didn’t do much reading growing up. It wasn’t probably until graduate school that I really actually saw the importance of reading and learning from others’ experiences and their values. 

Out of all of the books that I’ve read recently and in the last few years, Extreme Ownership really sticks out for a number of reasons. I’m on my fourth time reading this book right now because there’s so much good content that comes out of it – good business principles.

Every chapter is broken into three sections where you get a little of the war story, just to set the context and give you an idea of what they were up against. Then you get a principles section and a business application section. In each one of those throughout this book, probably 9 times out of 10, business scenarios or situations that you run into are going to be covered by one of the concepts and one of the principles in this book.

What is one of Motili’s values that resonates most with you?

For me, it would be competitiveness. I am a lifelong sports competitor. I grew up playing football and ran track, then got into combat sports, and now MMA where I currently fight. That’s my outside life and oftentimes I’m bringing that competitive nature and spirit to the workplace as well. I appreciate that and like that about Motili and our culture here.

Moving right into culture, how have you applied this in your department?

My teams get competitive amongst themselves, and they propose different things for who has the best performance on the week, whether that be a team or individual. I encourage that.

When you think about all of that and the remainder of the Motili culture, and you look at action, accountability, authenticity, consistency, and inclusion, competitiveness is just one of our values. Competitiveness resonates the most with me but there are other important aspects of Motili culture. One of them that’s one of the most important, to our department and probably Motili as a whole, is the value of action.

Relating that back to the Daikin 60-40 principle, we’re encouraged, and almost at times required to make a quick decision and a good judgment call once you have 60% of the information you need to make a decision. I think that’s what sets us apart here at Motili. What gives us a competitive advantage and sets us apart from our competitors or others in the industry is how much action we take every day.

What qualities do you feel make a good leader?

I’d say three things. Willingness and insight to learn would be one. Leading by example would be two. Failing forward would be number three.

With willingness and appetite to learn, there’s always going to be somebody better than you. Like we said at the beginning is you’ve got to be humble, or you’re going to get humbled. I live that philosophy throughout everything in my life.

There are no bad teams. There are bad leaders. You have to take in the experiences, the values and cultures and everything else that others bring and you have to be willing to learn from those and have the appetite to learn.

You can learn something from everybody. It doesn’t matter if they’re your subordinates, your boss, somebody that you meet on the street, doesn’t matter. Everybody has something to give. That’s probably number one.

Number two is leading by example. I often say that I don’t see myself as being very smart or bright. However, I get a lot of my ideas from the great leaders and the great people that have come before me, reading through their experiences, and then applying them to my life. One of those was by Colin Powell, and he said a quote, something like, “The most important thing I learned was that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them training and lecture them for hours, but it’s your personal example they will follow.”

As a leader, I set the example. I set the tone for everybody else around me. Leading by example empowers my team with the freedom and the confidence that they need to be successful.

I showing up to work on time every day, I show up well groomed, and I show up ready. Whatever the standard is, I’ve got to go higher. If you do those things and if you do those little things right, day in and day out, then the people that you are leading are going to see that. They’re going to take notice. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to have the credibility needed to be able to lead them.

Number three is failing forward. You may hear failure, and think that’s an oxymoron. How does a great leader incorporate failure into being a great leader? Failure is inevitable, especially if you want to innovate. If you want to be bold, if you want to fix something that may be broken, you have to be willing to put yourself out on a limb and fail every once in a while, especially if you’re going down a path that’s untraveled.

What is one piece of advice that you would give someone aspiring to be a leader in our organization?

Make things happen. If you see something that needs action, take that action and make it happen. That’s what really sets people apart. You’ll have your critics, you’ll have complainers, but don’t do anything about it. It’s easy to point out the failures of somebody else or point out where something could be better – it’s harder to do it yourself and set an example.

I’d like to share another quote from another great leader, FDR. I’ve shared it with my team and we all have print outs of it on our desktop. In summary, FDR says “It’s the man in the arena, not the critic that counts.”

Think about all the great leaders and all the great people in history that have books written about them. Did they have the books written about them and history books written about them, because they were really good at criticizing others? No, they’re the ones in the arena out there making things happen.

How do you balance the need for continuous improvement and increased efficiency in daily operations with the competing need of the organizations and constant state of change?

In school, we said, “Collaborate to graduate.” Now it’s, “Collaborate to elevate.” I encourage everyone – if you see something, say something. If you see something that’s broken, you see something that needs to be fixed, ideas where we can make something be more efficient, bring those up. Let’s have a constructive conversation about it.

Motili is a diverse company, with people who come from all walks of life. Everyone’s different and everyone has their own ideas. You have to be able to appreciate those, take those in, and apply those changes that you are at least 60% confident will make a positive impact.

When dealing with a hybrid on-site and remote work environment, how do you navigate communication issues between teams? How do you foster a sense of teamwork among people who have never met?

When you’re in person, working with others, you have the luxury of being able to read their body language and speak directly with them. It’s a lot faster to get things accomplished. What’s cool about Motili is that we have three offices that are split all over the world right now. We have one location in Bangkok, our team in Denver, and we have another team in Binghamton. So, we learned to communicate effectively even before the pandemic.

My teams work very closely with the sales team to make sure that we’re getting their needs taken care of. In order to get their needs taken care of, we have to have them communicate to us in a certain way that gives us exactly what their needs actually are. To facilitate this we set up various processes, procedures, forms, documents and things like that so ideas can be communicated in an efficient way. Processes build consistency that builds trust.

How do I foster a sense of teamwork amongst people that haven’t met? I like to take the work piece out of it first and get people communicating and collaborating together on something outside of work, and then bring work back into it. In my team meetings we share bios where every person on the team has an opportunity to go over a bio on their life and put their human touch on it to show we’re all humans and not robots. This process helps us understand close we really are, even when we are different or in different places. 

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