Ed Carpenter | A 230mph Lesson in People Leadership, Volatility & Competition


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Even three-time Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ed Carpenter was once told his dreams were too big.

“One of the first assignments we had was to write a five-year success plan,” Ed says of his time at Butler University’s Andre B. Lacy School of Business. “I obviously wrote a paper largely based around my racing career, and kind of tied in my time at Butler and how I was there to complement that as kind of a plan B. … [The professor] told me that it was nice to have dreams, but you need to be more realistic.”

On this episode of Human Resolve, host Mark Minner speaks with Ed about how he went from a rookie to eventually co-owning his own race team, Ed Carpenter Racing, and why naysayers only motivated him to work harder to achieve his goals.

Ed also shares what he’s learned as the leader of a 40-person team, including the importance of compassion, transparency and a clear mission shared by all employees. He describes how, in the small community that is IndyCar racing, it’s extra important to show respect for your competitors.

After the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ed is extra grateful for a team that knows how to think on its feet and adapt.

“I'd like to think that's one of the skill sets that we're very good at — just being able to deal with change and drama and unforeseen circumstances,” he says. “But I don't think anyone was prepared for what we went through last year. Fortunately, we were able to keep our people on through the whole time.”

Featured Leader

Name: Ed Carpenter

Title: Co-owner of Ed Carpenter Racing

Company: Ed Carpenter Racing

Noteworthy: Ed didn’t start racing until his mom remarried and suddenly he became the stepson of Indy Racing League founder Tony George.

Where to find Ed: LinkedIn

Human Resolve Episode 10 Highlights

Highlights from the transcript.

💡 Surround yourself with a good team and you will succeed

[20:07] “The first thing we really had to do — outside of spending money and putting deposits down on equipment — was to find a shop, a home location, home office. From there, it was really finding the right person to help us run the team and kind of their foundations and put an architecture together for how we wanted to build the team. I didn't want to have the sole responsibility of doing that, especially being in a dual role, still driving full time. So we hired Derek Walker, who had been a team owner, and kind of been through the same thing, similar experience and has had a successful team. … That was a great person for us — he definitely helped us lay foundations for what we are now.”

💡 Clearly communicate your mission so that people will want to work for you

[22:19] "There were challenges convincing people and selling people on what our vision was for the team, and that it wasn't just about my driving career — it was about building a business that would hopefully take me into the rest of my career as an owner once I am done driving. So there's complications on that side of things, on top of just balancing kind of having two jobs and two careers. One is the race driver, and one is the owner.”

💡 Remember that as a boss, you can make a huge impact on your employees’ lives

[24:06] "Managing our people and what's going on, whether it's in the workplace or in an employees’ personal situation, whatever it may be. … One of the things that I really enjoy about being in this role is the team aspect and working with our people and providing them with an experience and an opportunity to feel comfortable in their work environment and feel like we're not only giving them a professional experience, but something that benefits their whole family as well.”

💡 The best leaders want to see their team grow professionally

[25:43] “Seeing people achieve their full potential and become empowered to take a project and run with it and really make an impact — it's fun to see people develop. We have people here that came in at an entry-level position that are key employees now, who really have a large role. So that part's enjoyable, and on the driver side, working with young drivers and helping them become better professionals — I enjoy that side of it, too.”

💡 Rolling with the punches was the best skill to have going into 2020

[27:44] "It's a volatile industry to begin with, in a lot of ways. I think it prepares us to manage years like 2020. And still dealing with it in 2021, it’s probably a little easier because we're so used to plans changing and making last-minute decisions. Everything's fast paced that we do and the car has to be on track when it has to be on track.”

💡 Transparency is key as a leader, especially in times of peril

[28:56] “There's a lot of trust within the team, I really try to keep our people informed, especially when things are changing fast like they were last year. Just letting them know what's going on. At times, that seemed like it was hour to hour last year, let alone week to week, but just keeping them informed of what I knew, whether it was schedule changes or government changes, protocols that we had to adopt to get back open again, etc. But the biggest thing for me was just communicating with them. There's so much nervousness that can happen in times like that.”

💡 Respect your competitors and you shall receive respect in return

[31:50] “I really don't like hiring employees away from another team, especially right before the season's getting started, especially when it's a team and people that I have a lot of respect for. So I just picked up the phone and called one of the owners of the other team and kind of told them what was going on. … And he was like, ‘Well, I hate to hear that, but I really appreciate the call and you being above board with me. I understand how hard it is to find people, I know how hard it is to lose people. If you ended up doing something, making a move on him, can you just give me a heads up, let me know so I have a jumpstart trying to find a replacement? I'd appreciate it.’ That's just an example of something that comes up and it goes the other way, too, we’ve had people leave to go to other teams. It’s such a small community.”

💡 A prepared team is a successful team

[33:27] "We do so much work in the off-season to try to turn weaknesses into strengths and not lose the strengths that are your strengths. And every off-season, you feel like you've done a good job, you feel confident in the work that you've done, whether it's work you've done in the gym training, work we've done with both research and development and engineering. … It'll really take us that first three weeks of the season to get through each of the different disciplines that we race at to understand how we've done for each of those types of venues.”

Top quotes from the episode:

Ed Carpenter:

Quote #1

[12:47] “I probably didn't realize the lessons I was learning at the time, but as I got further down the road, being involved in more teams and ultimately ownership, there's still a lot of things that I look back upon from that first year that also had a part in shaping how and why I do some things that we do now.”

Quote #2

[29:38] "I just think that transparency in communication is about the best you can do to try to put people at ease even though, in a lot of cases, even when you're 100% truthful, it doesn't necessarily put people at ease until there's enough clarity and finality to know what the next step is.”

Quote #3

[35:18] “Whoever's grading you or judging you may not understand your situation, so on one hand, you don't want to let them stifle what you aspire to be or what your dreams are, even if it's well intentioned.”

Quote #4

[35:58] “You have to push to try to do something bigger and harder than what you think you're capable of to reach your full potential, so accept the challenge and go out and chase whatever it is that you want to accomplish.”

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