An Interview with John Grover, CEO of SparkHouse

interview series on suttida yang's blog

For this week’s interview, I reached out to John Grover, CEO of SparkHouse. John and I have known each other since 2012 when we both worked together at Launchpad. At the time, Launchpad was looking for a Digital Marketing Manager, and John ended up hiring me for the position.

One of the best things about taking that job for me was that John became a mentor to me, teaching me how to think more strategically about business in general. This was new to me because at the time many of my jobs were tactical and to be able to align both strategies and tactics helped me further excel in my career.

That being said, keep on reading to learn more about John, his aspirations for starting and running SparkHouse and much more…

1. John’s Bio 

John has an entrepreneurial leadership background spanning over 30 years, focusing on helping companies scale by aligning Human Capital programs with the business to drive performance.

Currently, John manages the Human Capital consulting firm SparkHouse.Collaborating with founders, CEOs, and BOD’s, he helps companies acquire and manage top talent and provides strategic expertise in human capital strategy and execution. John was COO for the start-up Launch Pad – a CPG company growing to $50M in just over 3 years and was instrumental in helping grow the OxiClean brand profits by 176%, eventually selling for 19.1x EBITDA. John was an early team member helping to grow the IAMS Company by 400%, eventually being sold to P&G for +$2.1B.

John has also held key positions at tech start-up Qwest Cyber Solutions and was part of the Qwest Communications acquisition of US West. He has served as a business consultant for Willis Towers Watson and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Pittsburgh. Additionally, John is a Growth Advisor for the Blackstone Entrepreneur Network and a Lead Mentor for the start-up incubator Exponential Impact.

john grover

2. Briefly describe SparkHouse and why companies choose to work with you.

We have successfully helped companies scale and create competitive advantage through people. For decades, we’ve worked with businesses throughout the U.S. and internationally, helping them to optimize their talent, drive productivity, and successfully grow their revenue and profits — organically and by acquisition. By finding, retaining, and motivating top talent and helping to identify and replace the people that don’t fit, we help build a strong foundation of Culture, Leadership, and People. We take a metrics-based approach, have a successful track record, and we “roll-up our sleeves and get results”.

Our Clients understand the best teams win; and attracting, retaining, motivating, and leading high-performing talent and teams is critical to growth and success.

Clients call on us because we:

  • know how to grow a business, increase productivity, and profits — and have done so
  • are experts in linking people strategy and programs to the business and results, and
  • are straight forward, flexible, and affordable.

3. What do you see are the biggest challenges for businesses today?

Well, I wouldn’t have said this two months ago, but it’s clearly navigating a pandemic and keeping the business open and thriving as well as keeping people safe and productive within an uncertain future.  I’m helping clients now plan for not only this, but what the future might look like and how it affects their business and how they lead their people. There are a lot of unanswered questions and we’ll certainly need to be creative and persistent. I’m optimistic – I believe we’ll meet the challenges, adapt, learn, and master new approaches and be better for it. It’s an opportunity for us all to be better.

4. People over profit or profit over people? What’s your take on this?

I’m a businessperson who just happens to be a human capital expert – profit is obviously very important and a major focus of my work. However, I tell my clients not all profit is created equal – there is “good”long-term value creating/sustainable) profit that is ecosystem positive, and there is “bad” (selfish/short-term /ecosystem-sucking) profit. I work with clients that want to create something “special” that is profit positive as well as good for people and the ecosystem.  My successful engagements have had profits and people both on line one of the objectives.

5. How have you balanced a successful career while also being present with your personal life?

This has certainly been a challenge. I have a great partner, and communication, collaboration, and compromise are key to balancing the two. I grew up in a single-parent household and so I know firsthand how important it is for both parents to be actively involved. While I am certainly driven and my work is very important to me, someone long ago told me, “You can always find another job, but you can’t find another family.” So, it’s a matter of communicating and prioritizing with your significant other.

grover fam
Juliana, JT, Alex, Caroline & John

6. What are some key ways companies can adapt to the ever-changing landscape technology plays in business today?

Continuous improvement needs to always be a major tenant in your strategic planning. Always look for ways to run your business better, faster, and smarter, as well as do what’s right for the ecosystem and the planet. If you challenge people to do this religiously, you’ll keep abreast of the latest technologies, as technology is what’s driving a lot of the continuous improvement.  

7. When looking to hire, what’s more important — talent or hard work?

It depends. It’s certainly a blend of talent, work ethic, and culture fit to your specific business. When I’m recruiting for a client, I spend a good deal of upfront time digging in and understanding their business – how they make money – and their culture and values that make them unique and drive competitive advantage. Understanding these things will answer the question of what’s most important. Usually, cultural fit comes first, followed by technical talent – simply because culture is a collection of values and these generally cannot be taught – they are your beliefs. Technical talent can be taught. 

8. Your favorite motivational quote and why?

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence & determination alone are omnipotent.”

Calvin Coolidge

I’ve carried a copy of this quote in my briefcase for over 25 years. In difficult situations, I take it out and read it – it gives me the focus and strength to press onward.

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