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Pepperdine | Graziadio Business School

Gil Rahn, MSOD '14

Connecting the dots between seemingly disparate businesses and the leaders who manage them

About Josh Epperson

For the past decade, Josh has worked at Navalent helping leaders and organization overcome their business challenges. He works with a variety of organizations and leaders ranging from community-based NGOs to privately owned business to multi-billion dollar public corporations.

Josh: Gil, tell me a little about what you’re currently up to.

Gil: Currently I am in the final stages of building a home for my soon-to-be-born baby girl, the beginning stages of working with a colleague on a passion project and 4 years into my role as Director of Operations for a payment-processing firm.

I spent the past year working on a few external culture related workshops and I wanted to turn my attention inward toward the larger group of companies which my company is part of. The group is privately owned and the other companies have been managed closely by the owners, which resulted in high turnover and a ‘play-it-safe’ culture. I am currently working on connecting the executive floor and cultivating a more collaborative culture.

Josh: Tell me a little bit about your MSOD experience?

Gil: My experience was transformative. I often break it down to three distinct areas. Great content is first. The program gave me great tools, language, and exposure to methodologies that have all been very beneficial. The second area was self-growth; it was like two years of self-exploration that awoke what I hope is a ‘better me’. I found the notion of “self as instrument” very powerful. The program also connected me to people and expanded my network. I gained a ‘new tribe’ of competent and qualified leaders who share similar ideals and a passion toward changing the world. I can pick up the phone and call people I’ve only met once and feel connected.

Josh: What connections do you make between your MSOD experience and your impact in the world?

Gil: MSOD has reshaped many of the interactions in my life and those have impacted my world. For example, my current role focuses on managing a company, with seemingly no direct connection to OD. 

Prior to the program I didn’t clearly see myself as part of a larger system. Having over 15 years of operational background, I was focused on mostly solving problems and accomplishing goals. The program helped me see past people’s roles and find the potential of a collective approach to business. For me, it was about finding a way to build partnerships between people that benefit their business needs.

I wasn’t familiar with the field of OD until about three or four years ago. I have a background in operations and government work and I had little exposure to process improvement methodologies. My focus was on the immediate; solve problems and improve performance. The program gave me a completely new set of tools. Being able to design and implement a process which allows people to effectively direct their passions and resources toward building a system that grows with change rather than dealing with its effects is a way of changing the world. 

Josh: So you’ve started seeing the need to connect these businesses and are working to pull them and leadership together?

Gil: Yes. Each of the various companies in the organization is very different. I manage a payment-processing firm – payroll, merchant processing, inventory, loyalty programs and solutions that involve the end user. Another company focuses on online marketing. Another company offers travel services. These companies have little to do with each other other than sharing an owner. It’s kind of like a holding company. In the past, the focus has been on the core functions of each company but now some of the auxiliary businesses are starting to grow and that creates tension. That tension provides new business opportunities, but many of the leaders struggle to see that. The MSOD program helped me identify and cultivate the interdependent opportunities to increase overall performance.

Josh: Beyond your work life, how else are you making an impact?

Gil: I am excited about the work I’m doing with my friend and colleague Jody Gold. We are both natural connectors and are passionate about the potential of authentic partnerships. We are in the process of developing simple ways small to medium size businesses can capitalize on partnerships to increase performance in individuals, teams and organizations.

Josh: What aspects of your MSOD experience and learning are yet to come to fruition?

Gil: For me, the MSOD experience has been a sort of awakening; it opened a capacity within me to see the world more clearly. For example, while I have always been motivated by helping and inspiring people; in the past that motivation was directed toward helping people by giving them the “right” answer. There is something very powerful about having the answer and sharing it with people. Being right feels really good. The MSOD experience taught me how limiting that view is. I believe all of us feel the need to be “right”. Once I was able to recognize that need within me, I became much more effective. What motivates me now more than anything is to be able to share that awakening with others and see its effects.

I recently introduced Appreciative inquiry to a friend who was ready to quit his lucrative business after months of frustration. In the course of a few weeks I saw him rediscover his passion and catapult his business to new heights. That felt infinitely more satisfying than being “right”, and that’s just one example of one methodology.

Josh: Anything else you want to add before we close?

Gil: My friend and mentor John Dupre instilled in me the value of simplicity. 
Many of the concepts, methodologies and applications we learned in the program rely on action research, group dynamics, neuroscience and decades of behavioral science. These are often complex notions, which I believe can only truly be learned experientially. To me, the true mastery of OD is the ability to simplify these concepts to the point where they seem almost elementary; where people can relate to them on a basic level.  I wish more people tried to do that. Achieving that is the true magic of OD and that is what I hope to do for the rest of my life.