Overcoming ego brings success for local author and businessman

In 2005, Brandon Black took over as CEO of Encore Capital Group, a San Diego-based company that acquires and collects consumer debt such as credit card balances of card-holders who are in arrears.

But all was not well. The Great Recession was coming, the company's stock price was tanking and its profits were drying up.

In his new book, "Ego Free Leadership," co-written with Shayne Hughes, Black chronicles his personal journey to tame his ego and turn his company around, moving away from internal conflict and blame and embracing collaboration and collective problem solving.

Black, 49, a Rancho Santa Fe resident, brought in Hughes and his company, Leadership as Learning, to help Encore identify and eliminate behavior throughout its executive team that was detrimental to the company's success.

"As a company we embarked on eliminating (ego) to the best of our ability," Black said. "We eliminated all the clutter."

As he launched this effort, Black said, he realized this new mind-set had to start at the top – with his own ego, fears and unhelpful behavior. Black said he realized that he had a fear of being disliked, and that in turn fueled an insistence on always being right. "It had to start with me," he said.

Only then was he able to work with his executive team to foster cooperation and put their egos in the back burner as well.

Egotistical behavior led groups to compete with each other, rather than acting for the good of the entire company, Black said. It also manifested in people putting each other down, and avoiding asking for help when it was needed.

"It's unconscious rather than conscious. No one wakes up and says 'I'm going to sabotage my co-workers today,'" he said.

The book, which is written as a first-person narrative alternating between Black and Hughes, details how the shift in thinking by company leaders allowed Encore to thrive through the great recession and beyond, even as many of its competitors went out of business during that turbulent economic period.

"Between 2009 and 2013, our revenues and profits increased 300 percent, operating costs declined 30 percent and the stock price rose 1200 percent. How did we create this miracle? ... our competitive advantage came from recognizing and stopping the specific ways in which we were working against each other," Black wrote in the book's prologue.

"Ego Free Leadership" came out in March and was published by Greenleaf Book Group Press.

The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble online, as well as some bookstores, including airport book sellers. In the next 30 days, Black said, an audio version will be available on Audible.com.

When they wrote the book, their target audience was senior company leaders. But the authors have since learned that the book's message resonates with a wider audience.

"We've had a lot of people say, could your next book be "Ego Free Marriage" or "Ego Free Parenting"? Black said. "We've gotten good feedback from a broad cross-section of people."

Black left Encore in 2013, wanting to spend more time with his family and get involved in community service. He and his wife, Dana, a strategic consultant for nonprofits, have three children. Their oldest son is in college, and their fourth- and sixth-graders attend Santa Fe Christian School, where Black serves as chairman of the board. He's also volunteered as a CASA (advocate for foster youth in their dealings with the court system).

Black will talk about his book during a private reception for Guild members at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 9, at the Rancho Santa Fe Library, 17040 Avenida de Acacias, an event organized by the Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild. The $50 admission fee includes appetizers and wine, the author presentation and Q & A session, and a signed copy of the book.

For reservations or to become a Guild member, visit www.rsflibraryguild.org, or call (858) 756-4780.

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