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How Focusing on Your Authentic Self Can Lead to Finding True Success

Listen To The Podcast

We talked with Mary about:

  • How sometimes the greatest success comes from making mistakes and embracing the pivots 
  • Giving yourself permission to be perfectly imperfect, normalizing challenges, and being okay with not being okay 
  • How staying true to your authentic self may mean turning your back on the wrong opportunities while leading yourself to the right ones 
  • How learning about those around you, being curious, and asking questions can help reframe how you’re going to show up and do the work


About Mary Grothe:
Mary Grothe lived every day aiming for perfection and quickly earned a reputation as a sales powerhouse. She scaled through being a number one sales representative and two-time business founder and CEO and is now an investor and chief revenue officer (CRO) at Payroll Network, Inc. (PIN), but her path has been anything but easy. Along her journey, she learned that finding true success required embracing vulnerability, normalizing challenges and mistakes, and allowing her authentic self to shine through. It wasn’t until she found her faith and gave herself permission to not have it all together every day that her entire world changed. Today, she shares her story to help others navigate their own journeys. Mary’s highly anticipated new book, “Destination; Remarkable.: Surviving the Dark Side of Success,” will hit shelves on September 19, 2023.

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Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:02):
Thank you for being here.

Mary (00:03):
You’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

Lauren (00:07):
As I was just saying, you are a powerhouse. Just getting ready for this call today, I learned you’ve scaled so many businesses and now you've got a big challenge in front of you coming on board. What was it? I think the number was something like triple in size in the next five years. They brought on such a dynamic leader with your background in starting companies, helping to grow companies, seeing the marketing, sales side, revenue growth, side modeling, all of that good stuff. So we'll get into a little bit of that but before we do, I'll let you do a little bit more of an introduction. You've got quite the story; the list goes on.

Mary (00:50):
Yes, I've had a pretty interesting life. So interesting that Forbes said they wanted to publish it, which I know we'll dig into today. So I won't have a super long intro here but I didn't have the best upbringing. And when I was 22 years old, I stumbled upon a professional career. I grew up in the performing arts. I thought I was going to be a professional dancer, and that was derailed. I got in a car accident when I was 18, and I entered into a really dark period of my life. So at 22, when I stumbled upon this opportunity to take an admin role with a payroll company, I didn't realize it was going to forever change my life. So I started in that role. I ended up transitioning into sales, becoming the number one rep against everyone's desire to see me succeed.

But I did it. And then I left after five years, took a VP of sales and marketing position with one of my clients, and that was a big title for a young lady but had tremendous success. We were able to quadruple the size of that company in seven months. It always sounds more impressive than it is. It was a small company but still, nonetheless, I fell in love with revenue scaling. So I started my first firm at age 28. I was a business strategist with a focus on go-to-market marketing and sales. And I helped startups and entrepreneurs build their business plan with the focus on how to have that rapid growth out of the gate. I did that for three years. Also dabbled in youth entrepreneurship education, made a lot of rookie mistakes as a first-time CEO and didn't know how to grow my own company through delegation and building a team.

I ended up becoming a starving entrepreneur. So I closed up that business, went back to the payroll company for three more years, sold millions, and ended up selling one of the top 10 largest deals in company history with my small business partner. I took that six-figure commission check, left, started my second company, and I ran that for five and a half years; we actually had some success with that. So we were a small team when we started but we were able to do about half million in our first year, tripled in size in our second year, third year did 2.2, that was COVID, and then in our fourth year, we took the company to 3.6 million, which was on the books but we were at a run rate of 5 million with 28 employees. So really in four years time, we scaled it from zero to 28 in 4 million in revenue.

That was exciting but then I entered into a really tough period in my life, got burnt out as the CEO and was starting to question what I was put on this planet for, what I wanted to do. I started this journey of figuring out what I wanted in the next chapter. And so very recently I made the leap. I resigned as CEO from my company and took a full-time position with one of our clients. The company is called House of Revenue, and we are a revenue scaling expert. So we would take what we call second-stage scale companies that are looking at growing and figuring out how to build real revenue engines where marketing, sales, customer success are all working together, and we'd go on fractionally, help them build that engine, and then help take them to market and help them grow their revenue.

Well, one of our clients was Payroll Network, and I'm from the payroll industry. So I fell in love and ended up working on contract as a chief revenue officer. AndI just knew this was my new home. So I ended up resigning and took a full-time position in the beginning of 2023 as chief revenue officer. And yes, I have said yes to a tripling in size goal. I've had the privilege of doing this with other companies, and I am so ready. I'm a few months into this job, and it is by far the greatest job I've ever had in my life, better than the one I created for myself, which is surprising because a lot of entrepreneurs and CEOs build their dream job. And I think it was that way for the first few years but it changed and I wasn't happy anymore. So now I found it, and I'm having the time of my life.

Lauren (04:47):
Oh my goodness. So quite the story. It’s  incredible to see the growth in what you've been able to do for so many companies. And also just to be able to have your pulse on the entrepreneurship side of things, right? I love that you started as an admin at a payroll company. So you've seen it from so many levels and now are seeing it from this perspective and that lens, I think adds such value. So, okay, we could get into all of that; I want to get into flavors of that too. But I want to swing back to the book. So why the book? I know you talked about having  this relationship with Forbes and you're going through that process but what kind of even sparked this idea? Was it them that approached you? I'd love to hear more about that.

Mary (05:36):
They did approach me. They approached me in May of last year and funny story. So in 2020 when COVID hit and everybody was forced to be at home, I had to reinvent some of the things we were doing inside of our business but I kind of got bored. I mean, I was working a hundred hours a week as a startup and scale up CEO. COVID changed that, which I'm grateful for, and I found some extra time on my hands. So in 2020, I actually partnered up with a very famous sales author who I'm not going to name here, and I wanted to write a book. So I started a manuscript working with him as my coach. And he is one of the best-selling authors in the sales category, and he's just so tremendous. But he wanted to take my story in a really interesting direction where I was coming across as this badass in sales.

I was kind of cutthroat; I used to be that way, and it's actually part of my story that I really had to heal from but I don't want to be that person. And I would never want to write a book about being a number one sales rep and modeling it in a way that I want other people to follow in my footsteps. I actually wasn't the nicest person in my 20s. I wasn't kind and caring the way I am now. I was very broken on the inside and finding ways to heal those wounds and holes through success and recognition and money, which is not healthy, FYI. And so this book, by the time he took it to his publisher and it was written, they read it, and then I had some personal things in there for my story that they wanted all stripped out.

They're like, we don't want to know anything about her upbringing. We don't want to know about this transition after the fact of her new perspective. We really just want to publish how to become a number one sales rep. I didn't feel right about it. And so I backed out of the deal and I said that's not the story I'm feeling led to tell. I think there's a lot of sales books out there on how to be a top rep. I need to write a different story about how that's not the answer in life. There's so much more. And that we were created for so much more rather than just titles and money and recognition and being number one. So I tabled it; it just sat collecting dust, for lack of a better term. And when Forbes reached out and they're like, hey, we've come across your profile.

We've been researching some of the stuff you've done, and we very much would like to take you down the process to vet your work and put you in front of the council, see if we can get approval to publish you. And I said, well, I actually have a manuscript. And they thought, oh, okay. Well that could speed up the process. Let's read it. So I sent it over. I had done a pretty extensive interview with them. And then they looked at the manuscript and they came back and they said, these two don't match up. We met you and we heard your story but then we read this book and it just didn't feel authentic. It felt like a how-to book. It felt like such a small portion. And I said I couldn't agree with you more.

They said, we want to publish your story, not how to be a number one rep. And that's when my heart exploded. And I thought, well, okay, a few things we need to make sure we're talking clearly here. I'm a very outspoken woman of faith, and I need to make sure my faith is spoken in truth and gets to be published because there is no book or story outside of who I am as a Christian woman. They're like, not a problem. And I said, the other thing is you're a business brand, so I'm just making sure we're all on the same page. Yes, I have scaled through being a number one rep and being a two-time founder and CEO and I'm also now an investor, now chief revenue officer. And I'm like yes, there are notes and undertones, themes of business but this really is my life story.

And they said, not a problem. This is the story we want to tell, because we need people to understand that it isn't just those front-facing items of being a top rep or being a CEO or scaling a company, that there's so much more behind that. And so, we entered into a contract for not one but two books. But the first one is my life story, everything we just talked about. The second one will come out down the road. It is more of a tactical revenue scaling playbook but I need some more time to write that.

Lauren (09:47):
Okay. So the first book, when should we expect it to come out then? 

Mary (09:50):
It's available September 19. And the pre-order link is available now. It's called “Destination; Remarkable.: Surviving the Dark Side of Success.”

Lauren (10:03):
We'll make sure to include a link too to all of that. So, okay. Just to circle back, so you basically scripted the first piece of it, your water under the bridge, which is so authentic, right? That's hard, that's hard. You listen to your authentic self but that's hard to do when you've already made that much progress and invested that much time. So, I mean, even just listening to some of your podcasts leading up to this, what you're putting out there is vulnerable. It's bold. It's probably scary. Where have you found the courage or what has led you to be able to put this out there? Is the intent to help others, kind of lift up others? One of the quotes I think you have on your website is just the idea of being significant. I'd love to hear more about what that means to you and how you bring that into the workplace, how you're bringing that into your book. 

Mary (10:54):
I was so scared for so many years of my career to ever admit that I made a mistake. I was a perfectionist, and I was just deathly scared that anyone would ever think I was anything less than perfect. My childhood and upbringing, I had an alcoholic mother, and the verbal and physical abuse was so difficult for me to grow up under and understand how to be as a human. I always felt I was never good enough and that everything was wrong. And so a lot of that carried into my desire to succeed because I was constantly just trying to prove to myself that I could be successful, that I could win. And I hid every vulnerability. I made sure nobody ever saw one ounce of weakness from me. I became a very strong, independent woman with a hardened heart. And at no cost would I ever let anybody know what was truly going on, because I never wanted to create doubt that I couldn't accomplish something or do something.

So that's a very sad way to get through life. But when I entered into my early 30s,  I became a Christian. When I was 29 years old I started a process of healing and started a whole new way of living, what they call a rebirth. And the first thing I had to do was heal all of those holes and wounds in my heart. And when I realized through that healing how broken I was, there were days I just couldn't believe I had lived my life the way I had lived it. And what I thought was, there are other people out there who are like me. And nobody ever showed me the way, nobody ever mentored me. Nobody ever showed me a different way of living. I had mentors, I had people who believed in me and developed me professionally, and they were amazing.

But I never had that person who just modeled for me the fact that it's okay to not be okay. And that it's okay to not have it together. Because the DNA, what was ingrained in me growing up, was that when I wasn't okay or when I did something wrong or something that wasn't perfect, there was a very massive negative repercussion. And so I built this fabric of my life that I could never make a mistake because I just did not want to deal with the wrath of the consequence of what it was to not be perfect. And so there was so much healing and acknowledging that I'm actually perfectly made as an imperfect woman and that's ok. And so all of a sudden, when I gave myself permission to not have to have it all together every single day, this whole new world opened up for me.

And I just felt like I grew so much stronger and I started to acknowledge I'm growing in comfort and telling my story. I have this new confidence and courage that I can share what has transpired, and that it might help open up that door or that conversation for the next person to look in the mirror and say, maybe it's okay if I'm also not 100 percent. And so what's interesting is when I started to do that, it really took some people by surprise in my network, because I had always been up to that point, this perfect polished, well spoken ninja when it came to anything. I have been on so many stages, podcast interviews, you name it, with flawless execution. So when they saw a different side of me, it was surprising for a lot of people. But then the best thing happened. I had message upon message upon message upon message of how encouraging and meaningful it was to prove that point. There is a podcast interview I did on a really well-known podcast in the revenue sales marketing space. And the guy, every May he reposts this interview. So it's a few years old, and he reposts this interview because it's mental health awareness month. And on this episode, I do not know why, I just felt so led and so compelled to just share.

Mary (15:00):
And when this episode circulates, the messages pouring into my LinkedIn DMs are the most heartwarming, affirming messages from men and women. It's very personal about becoming a mother and all that and the mental health challenges I had and being a working professional and holy smokes, those messages give me every ounce of courage, confidence, and fuel in the tank to continue to go down this path, even when it may be a little bit inconvenient for me as a professional. But Lauren, really the biggest thing is I've stopped caring what other people think because I'm right with the Lord, and I'm right in my heart, and I know the plans God has for me. And creating me wasn't a waste, and I'm not a mistake. And I am good enough, and I am perfect in his image. And he created me to go through the life that I did. And now I have the story to tell. And I believe that story is what is helping other people navigate their own journeys. And so I will forever stand proud on this podium and share this message as long as he has me on the podium.

Lauren (16:12):
So amazing. So I also feel like not only is it coming from a place of vulnerability but it's normalizing. And normalizing I think is just life, right? Different challenges people go through, all different variants, different shades of gray, if you will. And I think you're also bringing it in a way where you're putting yourself out there but as you alluded to earlier, you've people who encourage you, like business coaches and professional coaches, but you are not always talking about that, those under pieces, you know? And I feel like some of that shows up in weird ways you don't even realize. And so if you're getting to that core, and if you're at least putting yourself out there, it's helping to, I think, not just bring up the next generation but other people who are around you. So I'm excited for this book. And that you're willing to share. Because that's a scary thing to do,  especially in those worlds where it's so digital and it can catch fire in a different kind of way.

Mary (17:15):
Yes. And I've been so private about it, even in my marriage and with my new family and spoiler alert, I don't have a relationship with my birth family anymore but I got married into the most amazing, amazing family that ever existed. And my mother-in-law is like my mom now, and she has been for the last 10 years, and I love her so much, and she's so good to me. And I got through the final stages of proofreading and I have read this book cover to cover so many times, and they asked me to proofread one last time, and I said, I can't, I've read it so many times and I've lived it. So there's gonna be typos in there and I won't see them.

Lauren (17:51):
I hear you.

Mary (17:52):
Oh my gosh. I asked her if she would read it cover to cover, and I've been so private about the things in my life. And I told her, and I warned her, there was a disclaimer, take your time with this. But she said she couldn't put it down and she read it straight through pretty much. And then afterward, she just needed to sit in silence and digest and she couldn't even come up with the words of what to say to me afterward. And she finally got the words together and called me and she just could not believe what I have endured and what I have been through. And she cannot believe the output and the product of the woman I am today based on what I came from. And she was just so kind and loving in the words she shared and how grateful that she is that I'm in her family and I married her son.

And we created this amazing beautiful boy, my son. And we include her in everything we do. And that she's such an important part of my life. Usually mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws just don't have that type of a bond and relationship. But she was definitely taken aback. And it was also very encouraging for her to tell me how moved she was, the fact she couldn't put it down. And she says, it's just so crazy. I've known you for the last 10 years, I've known you for at least almost 25% of this story. And there's so much I didn't know in the battles you were fighting and what you were dealing with. And anyway, I really do hope people understand in this book that it was very difficult to put pen to paper things my husband doesn't even know. Obviously my mother-in-law didn't even know. But I do feel very compelled that this is going to help people.

Lauren (19:30):

Yeah. I think we also show up every day, right? We get to work or go through whatever it is we're going through but we're not aware of everything that's happening, right? With others. And so I think it's also that reminder to be kind.

Be grateful, throw people a bone to help lift up each other, that kind of we concept. So many good things. So I know we're close at our time here but I feel like we can keep going and I would love to hear more. I know we'll be able to keep going as the book comes out. And like I said, we'll include links. Anything you want to share as you look ahead? You've had this journey, the book's getting ready to roll out, there's going to be another one that's going to be off the heels of that too, right? You're starting this new role. Anything kind of takeaways you think for folks, if they're either stepping into a new role or if they're kind of in that entrepreneur hat, if they're kind of struggling with things. You've seen it from so many angles. How do you approach each day or how do you feel like you can, how do I better that next step? I'd love just to hear, because you've got it from so many lenses. I’d love to hear how you approach your lens for growth, which is what you're doing, right? 

Mary (20:51):
Yes. It's interesting to go from being an individual sales producer to a leader to a CEO to an individual sales producer to a CEO and now in a leadership position again. And there are so many different lenses. And when you wear those distinct hats, the way you show up is very different in those roles. And so now that I'm coming off the heels of being a CEO and entrepreneur and stepping back into a leadership position as a chief revenue officer, the way I approached this was just getting the lay of the land and understanding the way everything worked. I think because I'm so fast paced and high urgency, and I'm a big problem solver, usually I could be described as a bull in a china shop. I just get it and go for it.

And I'm also a little bit of a maverick, and I haven't always been the easiest to get along with because I'm so fast paced and high urgency. So one of the first things I had to do, because I care so much about Payroll Network, which has recently been rebranded as PNI●HCM, and I'm so excited for this journey and I'm looking forward to it. This isn't going to be a quick stop for me. I want to be here. I want to be here for a big, big chapter of my life. And I had a decision to make when I first embarked on that. I know what I'm capable of. And I've had to be this lone wolf maverick for the last five and a half years as a CEO. And everything like the buck stopped with me. 

I made the decisions. I was five executives in one and did execution in client work. They call it the chief everything officer. I didn't have a lot of people I could rely on. I also didn't have people I really had in my circle I could evaluate decisions with because I was the tip of the spear. And walking into this scenario with an unbelievable team of accomplished, loving, caring, knowledgeable, brilliant executives, I had to reframe how I was going to show up and do work. Because that's a very different environment going from five executives in one to actually having five executives, actually seven. And so it was a whole shift for me to go into. I got the lay of the land, I learned who the people were. One of my favorite courses in college was about organizational behavior theory and management and understanding the inner workings of each person and how they fit into a larger puzzle.

And then deciding how you're going to show up and how you fill in on that, how you communicate, how you align with others so you can be woven into the fabric of that team and not be the disruptor or the the person who's kind of sitting out on the sidelines. And how do you truly, truly get integrated? So for me it was a lot of being curious and observing and asking questions and diving in a little bit here, and then pulling back a little bit, diving in, pulling back a little bit. There was a little bit of friction at first, how to figure people out and they needed to figure me out. But then I had a data set I could start to interpret and make decisions from on how I was going to fit into this leadership team and really be honored and valued in my role.

Because I've never had a chief revenue officer, it wasn't specific to me, but I really like what I can bring to the table or a CRO could bring to the table. And so doing that level of investigative work on the front end, I think was what was so transformative in building what the path was to go forward. And so because of that initial time, I guess an investment on the front end, now we are this one cohesive unit. We so genuinely care about each other. We know what our short campaigns are, and there's a lot of grace. There's no finger pointing. We're just able to identify like, hey, this isn't so-and-so's specialty. Maybe it's fallen on their plate in the past. Let's move that. Let's figure this out. So now we are able to take this goal of tripling in five years, and we're able to tackle it because we have alignment. That wouldn't have been possible if I just came in, like, I'm going to handle this and that, which I've been known to do in the past. So I think that's my biggest takeaway from being in transition, going into this new role. And hopefully that's helpful advice to people: winning together is a lot more fun. I've had to learn that.

Lauren (25:01):
Absolutely. No, that's so fair. And it's easier set than done too, right? And it also takes a certain volume of resources and the right players in the right seats, as you alluded to earlier. And clarification on strategy and all these kinds of things to be able to come together to do that. So it was so much easier said than done but it sounds like you're sinking into a great new home and I'm excited to see what's going to come out of all of it. And I think not just only for the organization and the growth goals and being able to shape it up but also just for your journey as you're going to be able to help share this and I think spread it to an even wider network too. 

Mary (25:39):
Thank you.

Lauren (25:40):
Thank you for your time and for sharing a little bit more, for giving us a little bit of a teaser for what's to come. And like I said, we'll link to the book and some of those resources and that podcast—I'd love to listen to that podcast you mentioned and go from there. So thank you again, Mary.

Mary (25:58):
Thank you for having me.

Lauren (25:59):
All right. We'll be in touch soon.