The Kenyan Nomad

The Kenyan Nomad

Monday, May 22, 2017

Meet the Mentor: Frazer Buntin (part 2)

In part 1 last week, we met my mentor, Frazer Buntin, and learnt about his early life and education background. Today, he'll talk to us about his career so far.

Work background

Right after school, I worked for my father’s company for about a year. I wanted to see if the business clicked with me and additionally, my older brother, with whom I am very close, was there as well. My plan was to work and live at home and eat Ramen noodles to save as much money as possible for an epic adventure.

I absolutely love adventure. I love adventure more and more throughout my life and also regret not adventuring more along the way. This particular adventure was about 3 months of tramping around New Zealand and Australia with a back pack and a $500 car that I bought off a cork board advertisement in the first hostel I came to in NZ. I hiked and camped and climbed mountains and fly fished and sat in silence for long periods during the middle of the day.

One rainy afternoon, I simply started writing while lying in a bunk bed in a $5 a night hostel. I wrote about what kind of person I wanted to be. I wrote about the values I wanted to hold true to in my life. Many of these values had always been present but had been dulled by the norms of college. Some of these values were new. That day – and the entire trip – ended up being a bit of a personal reset button for me. I came away from that experience with clarity on how I wanted to “show up” to life at my most fundamental level. I cherish that time still today and feel that it set me on a course personally that I still benefit from today.

My professional career has spanned some incredible and crazy-ass experiences. I have worked for huge companies and started companies and have been CEO twice and have travelled all over the US. I have had unbelievable successes and epic failures. My path has been so winding that it would take dozens of pages to describe the way my career has unfolded.

Today, I am president of a large division of a high-growth healthcare company called Evolent Health. Evolent has gone from having 3 employees to over 2,600 in 5 years. We have gone from an idea to a $1 billion IPO in 5 years. Someone once said:

 When you have a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask which seat is yours, just sit down.

That is how I feel about Evolent. We have smart people, great culture, and most importantly, our work is meaningful and interesting to me. Those last two items are the ticket-to-the-dance requirements for me. My main job functions are to hire good people, set the strategy, monitor their behaviors, and measure our results. On a “Monday morning”, that means I am usually on the phone or in a meeting or working on a task that involves making decisions on improving our business. Leading people and solving problems consume most of my time. I have essentially no recurring work and nearly every task, every day is unique.

My successes will have little context for you unless you have worked in the fields or industries that I have, so it’s difficult to make those come alive for you. It is similar with the low points. Just know that I have knocked some home runs out of the park and I have absolutely fallen on my face in parts of my career as well.

All of these stories are long and usually funny, so perhaps, we’ll run into each other sometime and I’ll tell some of them. I will share that when you have the highs and the successes, you should absolutely cherish them. Marinate in them (there’s that word again). Feel like those days never want to end. Let yourself get goosebumps on how well you succeeded. During the lows and the failures, make them right beyond your own expectations. Take something away from them that you learned. Remember careers are a long-game. And then let that shit go.

I can attribute my success to hitting the parent lottery, growing up on a farm, great education, eye-opening experiences, mental wiring for problem-solving, and a knack for motivating people. Deeper than that, I attribute my success over time (not as individual) to intense personal reflection. I have always, throughout my career, taken time to think about what is working and what isn’t working for me – and then to do something about it. That process of reflection has accelerated my pathway down the career “funnel”. This reflection has also allowed me always to be learning. Always to be finding new tactics, methods, and strategies I can apply for all kinds of different scenarios throughout my career. I think I have a knack for surfacing and using tactics very well.

As for key role models, I have covered my parents already. Beyond that, I see anyone as a role model who has found the intersection of doing actual work they are good at doing, in an industry of which they are passionate, and have found a way to be well-compensated. This is the sweet spot of a work career when work doesn’t feel like work. Many of us only get one, a few two, and a very rare few get all three. These are the role models for me.

Regarding work-life balance, I have totally blown this one in my past and had to earn my way back into a balance. I never expected my career to involve as much travel as it has but here I am, 20 years into it, and I have logged A LOT of miles. More so than that, for a long time, I carried work with me as a thinking obsession. Maybe even a thinking addiction.

We would need more pages to give this topic the time it deserves but I am in my own personal “recovery”. Some of you will get this instantly and some might get it 10 years from now.

However, I have found the other side of the Venn diagram. I mentioned the concept of “intense personal reflection” previously as a driver of success. As our biggest strengths are also our biggest weaknesses, I needed another side of the coin to balance me. The other side of my Venn diagram that gives me work-life balance is not to give a shit.

I don’t mean that I don’t care, as I care – intensely. What I mean is that I do intense personal reflection, I make some decisions, I take some action – and then I don’t give a shit after that. I let go of control or expectation or wanting or needing some outcome to happen. I let go of the desire for some future event or thing to bring me happiness. Our brains are tools we use for survival but we must put them down when we are done. If we don’t put them down, we aren’t not actually living our lives, we are living our future lives. This is hard as crap to do for me so it is a practice. There are a whole series of tactics below the level of not giving a shit that we also would need more pages to cover adequately. I am putting a lot of effort into this though and it is working. I can feel myself living a few feet above myself.

Mentors are rare. Good mentors are unicorns. The best type of mentors are when you get lucky and have a direct manager who is also a good mentor. These people are like unicorns, riding a unicorn. I have had a few people who have helped me along the way including one or two unicorns riding unicorns. In hindsight, I am deeply appreciative of these people. Their wisdom was a huge accelerant for me personally and professionally.

For me, I enjoy helping others find their way. I enjoy helping others “be okay” with where they are and where they are going. I enjoy helping others take my tactics and experiences and wisdom and do something even better with them than I have. I think I would have been, and perhaps may be at some point in the future, a decent teacher. Part of my enjoyment of passing on wisdom or guidance or experiences is creating efficiency out of inefficiency. Wisdom should be scaled. Knowledge gained from experiences should be scaled. Again, I was taught to care about things and this is one I care about. If I can get scale on the things I have learned with several other people throughout my life, then I am potentially putting a massive accelerant underneath those people. Perhaps then, their experiences and wisdom and knowledge over time far exceeds mine. If they are inclined, they do the same and we are accelerating the advancement of the human state of mind. That is pretty rad.

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