This is the Guy You Want at Your Side If Your Business Hits Turbulence

Not many people can say they started a business before they were a teenager. Even fewer can say they started a successful one. But that’s precisely what Chris Williams did.

When Chris was just 11 years old, he made a deal with his neighbor: In exchange for the neighbor’s lawnmower, Chris would cut his grass for free all summer. Over the months, Chris added six other yards to his roster. By the time he left for college seven years later, the Memphis native had three crews working under him, and a lawn mowing business so successful that he was able to sell it at age 21.

That can-do attitude and ingenuity are central to Chris’s personality, and are qualities that have made him a successful businessman and community member. As a financial advisor from 1999 to 2011, Chris would not only advise his clients on their finances, but also on their businesses. It was in those interactions that he found his true calling.

“I was spending as much of my time as I could advising our clients on their businesses. That was my real passion.”

Chris believes strongly in following his passion, so after selling the majority of his stake in the financial advisory firm he’d helped create, he founded a specialist consulting firm for businesses going through highly turbulent situations.

True to his go-getter personality, Chris says he thrives most when working with companies who are going through “really volatile times that could crush the business.”

Senthold (short for Social Entrepreneurial Holdings), specializes in helping privately held organizations navigate start-ups, periods of rapid growth, and high-risk transitions such as a big change in leadership.

Chris and his team work with four to eight businesses at a time, over a period of six to 18 months, taking over the companies, training their executive staff, and then handing the business back over to the owners. Chris himself takes over the CEO role of several companies for a year or two and fills key executive roles during that time, training from the ground up and readjusting and realigning the culture.

Building a healthy, successful culture relies on three things, says Chris: strategy (how to get something done), leadership (teaching people how to execute), and execution (each person getting their part done).

“Culture is the foundation, the underpinning, that holds those things together, like a basket,” Chris explained.

If culture is the bones of a company, then social responsibility is the heart, according to Chris. “I love entrepreneurship, but what gets me fired up is the socially responsible aspect of it,” he said. As a social entrepreneur, Chris focuses on helping businesses that promote a community’s well-being. “It’s about making sure what we’re doing is something that actually builds the community.”That the fabric of the business is so woven into the community that if the business succeeds, the community has to succeed with it.”

A recent project involved helping a group of pediatric surgeons start their own practice. None of the surgeons had any business experience, and they depended on Senthold to put together every piece, “from the first email address, to hiring a full staff to build out of their practice, to all the operations,” Chris said. Beyond just setting up a foundation for the practice, though, Chris and his team are in it for the long haul. “We’ll stay with them until they’re flooded with patients and their practice is strong and stable,” he said. “Then we’ll slowly back away.”

Another key factor of Senthold is the company’s commitment to working virtually. “When we started in 2011, it was very intentionally done to be a virtual model,” Chris said. “We didn’t want to have an office, office hours or a tight structure. We wanted a culture that was flexible and free and allowed people to do what they wanted to do in their lives.”

In 2012, when Senthold was growing rapidly, Chris was looking for staff to help with administrative and organizational tasks. Enter Worldwide101. Chris hired Kimberly and Shanna as his virtual assistants, and says their addition has helped tremendously. “Our productivity level is way higher than any face-to-face person I’ve worked with because we’re so focused,” he said of his long-time working relationship with the two VAs. “They are part of our team. They think strategically, act as leaders, and execute as leaders.”

With his team in place and his goals in sight, Chris is able to focus on doing whatever it takes to build better businesses that contribute to their local communities. Whether that involves building a business from scratch, lifting a long-established company over the hurdle of a leadership change, or teaching employees at all levels how to be leaders and use their individual skills to best support their collective goals, Chris is all in.