Jeff Ransdell | Crain's Tampa Bay

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

Jeff Ransdell


Jeff Ransdell is a founding partner of Miami-based Rokk3r Fuel EXO, a global venture-capital firm that invests in founders who are building exponential technologies on an international level.

The Mistake:

My mistake was not shifting with the corporate culture and not knowing when it was time to leave [a company].

I spent 21 years working for a firm on Wall Street, where I held a number of senior leadership positions and went through a lot of changes with the organization, the largest of which happened after a bank took over the firm after the financial crisis. But from 1999 to 2012, I would classify the firm’s leadership style as servant leadership, which prioritizes the people you serve.

The purpose of this type of leadership is to get people to understand and believe that they belong to something bigger than themselves — that it’s not about what’s in it for them; it’s about the greater good. The leadership and management were serving the financial advisors, who were serving the client. This fostered loyalty because it showcased that people came first. In that same vein, my focus was building a family-like culture by spending a lot of time with everyone, inviting them to my home, cooking dinner for them and making a point to recognize people’s accomplishments and to make everyone feel special.

After the financial crisis hit and the bank took over, this culture began to break down. The firm was in an uncomfortable situation because it was dealing with so many lawsuits and had lost so much value, but the bank that bought it needed it to perform. It was a difficult time of transition that necessitated a change, and the culture began to shift away from this servant-leadership thought process. All of the sudden, everything was about the bottom line, human resources and doing everything by the book. It was more firm-focused, [meaning] if you fell, it was harder to get back up. Instead of making everyone feel like “We’re all in this together,” it created this feeling of “It’s us against them.”

Nevertheless, I pushed back and tried to maintain this servant-leadership culture for a while.

At one point, an employee who needed to improve their performance was put on a work program to be monitored. Had this happened before the bank took over, the employee likely would have been fine with that because it was just a developmental [matter], not a career-ender. But in this more black-and-white culture, you no longer feel like your interests are coming first; you start to think, “I’ll get you before you get me” and start to build up your own defense story to shift the focus onto others. That’s exactly what happened in this situation, and it made me I realize I was working in a place that had changed too significantly for me to continue working there. I was trying to build a family-oriented culture inside of a larger organization that didn’t share the same values, so I retired.


Know who your boss is and adjust your leadership style accordingly; if you aren’t prepared to do that, you should leave. 

The Lesson:

Know who your boss is and adjust your leadership style accordingly; if you aren’t prepared to do that, you should leave.  

Unless you’re at the very top of it, trying to change the culture of a big corporation is a futile exercise; the organization will execute on its vision regardless of what you want. If you don’t adjust the way you lead, your employees might look at you and think, “That might be the way you are, but if something goes wrong, you won’t be able to fix it.” So they’ll alter their behavior to take care of themselves.

It was hard for me to continue fostering this family culture when the overriding corporation was so far away from my philosophy. Because I had been there so long and was viewed as a performer, I thought that my word would change the overall corporation. It did not.

I probably worked there longer than I should have because I thought my world revolved around the organization; it’s hard to leave a place you’ve been there so long. But I did leave, and now I am doing something that makes me very happy because it allows me to foster this servant-leadership culture I believe in so much.

Rokk3r Fuel EXO is on Twitter: @Rokk3rFuel.

​Photo courtesy of Rokk3r Fuel EXO

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