Brendan Keegan | Chief Executive Officer | Merchants Fleet

Success stories can be truly motivational for many. Somebody’s journey towards excellence, the hardships they overcame, or how they finally achieved success, become examples that encourage us in achieving our goals.

Insights Success, in its upcoming edition “The 20 Most Successful CEO’s to follow in 2020,” is bringing the stories of some exceptional CEOs who are focused, dedicated and persistent towards their objectives, and are becoming a source of endless inspiration for everyone.

Currently serving as the Chief Executive Officer at Merchants Fleet, Brendan Keegan is one such inspiring leader, who facilitates a great experience for employees, profound service for the clients, and a strong return for shareholders—through a carefully articulated and executed strategic direction to transform the company’s business model.

According to Brendan, he joined Merchants Fleet for two major reasons—the people and the potential. He was able to get to know the Merchants team as a client and board member. As he knew, it would be a great experience to get to work with this group of people every day, and that is something that has proven to be more than true, based on his first two and a half years at the company.

“Have the COURAGE to Fail & the FAITH to SUCCEED”

The second reason he joined Merchants Fleet as CEO was because of the growth potential. Brendan could see how fast the company could grow, if some key initiatives were kicked off, led, supported, and supercharged to drive the future of the company. He signed up for that job, and it has been wildly more successful than he could have ever pictured.

In fact, Bain Capital Credit also bought into the strategic direction, people and growth potential and became Merchants growth financing partner.  Over Brendan’s term as CEO the company has won numerous awards to include being named to the Inc 5000 fastest-growing companies list,  Gold & Bronze level Stevie® Awards in 2020 American Business Awards® for “Fastest Growing Company of the Year” and “Most Innovative Company of the Year”, respectively, for companies up to 2,500 employees; IMPACT Innovation Award, Great Place to Work Certified; Best Places to Work Hall of Fame; Best & Brightest Companies to Work For in Boston & Chicago; and more.

To learn more about Brendan’s and the Merchants Fleet’s journey, let us take a peek into the below interview between Insights Success and Brendan Keegan.

How do you diversify your organization’s offerings to cater to the target audience?

Merchants Fleet is focused on providing the most flexible, innovative, and comprehensive solutions on the planet. We have been in business since 1962 and have stayed true to the company’s core values. Three of those values—service, flexibility, and innovation—are at the core of what makes our offerings unique in our industry.

We really see ourselves as disruptors in the industry through our FleetTech program, our ability to be flexible, and unique capabilities. Because of this, we have had the opportunity to service some of the largest fleets of vehicles in the world.

What people, what books, what life factors have influenced and impacted you?

The four people who have influenced me the most are my sister Beth, my Dad, my Mom, and my wife Dana. Beth was born with Down’s syndrome; she was the most optimistic person who ever walked the face of the world.

She taught me positivity, selflessness, kindness, and gratitude. Next was my Dad, who taught me integrity, work ethic and systems thinking. My Mom was a volunteer and giver who taught me generosity. My wife, Dana, has taught me partnership, love and being limitless. She has taught me how to be a better man, a better husband and we have taught each other how to be the best parents possible.

In my professional career, I owe any success I have been able to achieve to five individuals and mentors – Val, Bill, John, Gary F. and Gary B. They pushed me to the limit, invested in me as a person, taught me business lessons beyond my years and put my career in the fast lane, at times when I did not even know it.

Education is freedom, and I am thankful to all my teachers, faculty and administrators at St. Chris Elementary School, Bishop Guertin High School, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the George Washington University.

What is your vision for the company for the next five years?

Our vision as a company is to enable the movement of people, goods, and services freely—providing the most comprehensive, flexible, and innovative service on the planet. With this as our lofty vision, we are focused on helping our clients be more efficient, save money, and drive creative solutions for their fleets of vehicles, as well as creating an exceptional experience.

In the next five years, with this focus, we will be the sixth largest in our industry, driving value for more and more companies every day. Over the next five years we are focused on serving our markets, seizing new opportunities, and achieving our four strategic imperatives.

As a business leader, what are some of the vital attributes that every leader should possess?

I have had the opportunity to both experience what it is like to lead, and then to also train and coach others on how to lead. I believe that it starts with a leader signing up to fulfill the ultimate definition of leadership: “Leadership is the willingness to accept responsibility, to organize a group of people to achieve a common goal.”

Once a leader understands that definition of leadership, they can move towards exemplifying the 7 key attributes of leaders: vision, brand, productivity, communication, relationships, emotional intelligence and influence. These 7 key attributes can be learned and developed over time—once one is willing to take on the responsibility of being a leader.

How do you maintain balance between your professional & personal life?

Balance for me is not about hours worked, it is about quality of life. Sure, as an active, engaged CEO of a hypergrowth company I work a bunch of hours. But as an equally engaged and active Dad, husband, volunteer, and community member I do not miss out! And therein lies my sincere high quality of life, which I define as the benchmark and gold standard for balance. By having great time management, I effectively lead our company while also striving every day to be highly engaged with everyone in my life.

As a director and business leader, describe a challenge you overcame.

A challenge I have had the opportunity to overcome has been removing fear from employees, clients and shareholders amidst a crisis. During my first major crisis as a CEO, I created the TOUGH TIMES PLAYBOOK.

Most recently, I pulled out the playbook during the COVID19 pandemic. Once we saw that businesses were starting to shut down, we executed the plays and successfully maintained company culture, business continuity & growth during a crisis. Below are the plays from the Tough Times Playbook.

  • Play 1 – Don’t Hide, Be Transparent
  • Play 2 – Develop a Clear Action Plan
  • Play 3 – Focus on Employees First
  • Play 4 – Continue to Deliver Great Client Service
  • Play 5 – Open All Channels of Communication
  • Play 6 – Markets Shift, Be Flexible
  • Play 7 – Think Long Term

How do you sustain your creative leadership spirit in this changing technological era?

While many people fear change, change inspires me and drives my creativity even more than stagnation. Because of this vision and what we see for the future of technology, the premise that things are changing is simply enough to keep my creative energy flowing. From a young age, I have had a passion for technology. I went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and studied engineering. I enjoyed figuring out how things work and how they are pieced together.

Additionally, I started a company out in Silicon Valley just when the dot-com boom was heating up and we sold it just at the perfect time. My CEO position prior to Merchants was with a technology services company and I started my career at EDS, Electronic Data Systems—the technology giant of its time—that was acquired ultimately by HewlettPackard.

So, I would say that besides a passion for sports, something that is exceedingly high on my list is technology. Currently at Merchants, we have built a proprietary software platform that gives our fleet clients a total view into their fleet—hence its name TotalView.

What would be your future endeavors and where do you see yourself in the near future?

I have always stated when my two kids, Kaylie and Patrick, graduate college I would like to graduate life. Kaylie will be a high school senior this year and Patrick a high school freshman, so that puts me on the clock for 8 more years of working professionally. I am currently on an extremely focused and exciting journey, and that is leading Merchants Fleet as their CEO.

I end virtually every company meeting with “Enjoy the JOURNEY”. Our transformation is underway, and we have become the fastest-growing company in our industry. As my son would graduate college in June 2028, I plan to step down as an active CEO and move toward retirement, while continuing to make an impact on young leaders.

I have a goal of building one million leaders, so even though I will not be an active CEO, I do plan to assertively teach, coach and mentor leadership to anyone that is willing to listen. I also plan to continue developing the series of books I have charted out over the next years. Once I slow down, I will have the greater opportunity to sit on boards and help entrepreneurs, owners and leaders achieve their business objectives through sharing some of my experience.

What advice would you like to give to the emerging business leaders?

Many people believe that leaders are born and have the innate traits of being a leader from their birth and upbringing. However, I disagree with this point. I think to a certain extent, our DNA or our innate character gets us started. But it is up to us what we do with it from there. We can all learn to become MADE leaders.

I have seen this time and time again in my own career. Leaders I had the chance to work with who may not have believed that they could be leaders at the start, but once they received some coaching and had the opportunity to learn from and emulate other great leaders, they started to develop the traits of leaders themselves.

Leadership is a daily decision. It is a gift, for sure, but it is a daily decision to show up, to work at it, to lead people, to grow and to drive towards a grander vision.

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