Mike Brown | Crain's Phoenix

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Mike Brown


Washington Federal operates in eight western states, including Washington, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah and New Mexico. It has 31 in-state branches in Arizona.

The Mistake:

I hired somebody that wasn’t skilled for the job. They flamed out and I had to let them go.

When I first became a manager at a finance company, I was given the opportunity to make my first new hire. To this day, I remember it vividly because it subsequently became my first firing. I was so excited that I was going to hire my own team. I wasn't trained in how to properly interview and what kinds of traits to look for — all the things that I do today and that you have to do. I didn’t apply them because I didn’t know them.

Consequently, I hired somebody that wasn’t skilled for the job. They flamed out and I had to let them go. I’ll never forget that I didn’t sleep the night before the termination. Those are traumatic moments, both for the person delivering the message and certainly, for the person receiving the message — it’s tough.

As is common in any industry, if you’re a top producer or salesperson, they’ll bring out the magic wand, tap you on the head and say, “You’ll be a great manager.” Many times it works, but sometimes it doesn’t. They may break out the magic wand, tap you on the head and make you a manager, but I didn’t get a lot of training or mentoring before they threw me into the deep end.

I thought I could recognize what a good team member looked like and I think I just chose the first one that showed some keen interest. I just wasn’t well versed in what to look for.

My emotions carried me away and I made a decision that wasn’t a good one.

The Lesson:

Now, I take my time and I know what I’m looking for. More importantly, I quickly know when they’re not a good fit. I really try to understand what their skill sets are, where they want to go and what their career path looks like. 

Over time, you learn to become a better interviewer and you become better at hiring people through experience. To this day, when a termination takes place, it’s painful. Those for whom it’s not painful, they're not in my black book. You’ve got to take it personally, because it’s a very traumatic time. 

I haven’t been able to completely avoid hiring mistakes, but for the most part, my track record has become a lot more successful as I got further into my career. In the beginning, however, my emotions carried me away and I made a decision that wasn’t a good one. 

From that experience, I not only learned the importance of preparing myself for non-traditional tasks that might be assigned in a leadership position, I also learned the importance of helping others get there as well.

Follow Washington Federal Bank on Twitter at @WAFDbank.

Photo courtesy of Mike Brown