Catching Up With Author Michael Kurland


Broken to Better: 13 Ways Not to fail at Life and Leadership is simply one of the best books I’ve read this year. In fact, I was so impressed that I decided to reach out to the author, Michael Kurland, to talk about his book, What led him to write it, and what we should all learn from it. Michael was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to share his thoughts on building his business and why he wrote a book about it. I think you will find it provocative and thought provoking.

Dan Beaulieu: Michael, I know you are a very busy guy so thanks for taking the time to talk with me. First, please talk a little yourself and your background.

Michael Kurland: My pleasure Dan. I’m the co-founder and CEO of Branded Group, which is a national facility management company located in Orange County, California. While I had a dream to

work for the New York Mets, my career took a different turn. I landed in the facility management industry, and, although I didn’t know a thing about it, I needed to pay my bills. Over time, my sales and marketing skills, along with my ability to build relationships were what set me apart from my peers and provided the foundational elements for me to launch my business.

When I lost my job, I decided that I could do facility management better, so I sold everything I owned and headed across the country to launch Branded Group.

Beaulieu: And that is what I found fascinating. At the beginning of the book, you describe how you were kind of at the bottom and you made the decision to move forward and change your life for the better. Can you elaborate by giving some details about that time?

Kurland: This time of my life was filled with physical, mental, and emotional challenges. I’d lost my job, gotten divorced, and had a major foot injury that kept me from working out regularly which led to weight gain. All these circumstances came together to put me in “victim” mode, and I began to feel sorry for myself.

Then one day my roommate (and now Branded Group President, Jon Thomas), who’d seen me spiral over and over said something that was the trigger to make a change. After I’d apologized to him for yet another misstep, he said “Don’t be sorry. Be better.” The rest is history.

Beaulieu: You know that takes a lot of courage. What was it that made you pick yourself up and move forward?

Kurland: I realized that I could be a victim or victor. The choice was mine. No one could make this for me. Because I’ve always been a fighter and never wanted to fail, I chose to be a victor and began to take steps to improve my physical, mental, and emotional health. I developed a healthy eating lifestyle, re-started my exercise routine, and began regular meditation and gratitude journaling. Little by little, I began to see improvements, and this gave me the motivation to continue.

Beaulieu: What was the hardest thing about doing that?

Kurland: Self-reflection is never easy but if you want to be better, you have to take a hard look at yourself. This doesn’t have to be a negative thing. During this process, I evaluated my strengths and weaknesses. I did what I could to address what wasn’t working, that is, my unhealthy eating habits, some of my childhood trauma, and not exercising. Then, I made inroads to improve each of these areas.

Beaulieu: So, you sold everything and started over in California. What was that like?

Kurland: One of the things I discovered was that I loved the beach. I knew I wanted to live and work by the water. Even though I was on the East Coast where there are plenty of beaches, the area was already saturated with facility management companies. Through my research, I discovered that the West Coast wasn’t and so that’s when I decided to move and launch my business in California.

Beaulieu: You not only picked up and started over, but you started what is now an extremely successful facility management company. Where did the idea for that come?

Kurland: Facility management is not a new idea. Companies have been providing these services for years. Yet, what I noticed throughout my various jobs in the industry was a “churn and burn” mentality. Sell the service and move on. My success was primarily due to the relationships I’d built with my customers, knowing what they needed before they did and helping them to be successful by creating memorable brand experiences—not just fixing broken HVAC systems. I took my personal “Be Better” philosophy and transferred it to my business. We created the “Be Better Experience,” which encompasses the entire client relationship from onboarding to daily management.

Beaulieu: What was it like starting that company? What were the first days like?

Kurland: The first days were exhilarating and exhausting as I’m sure any new business owner can relate to. My co-founder and I were wearing several hats and doing things we hadn’t done before. I was traveling across the country trying to secure new clients while Kiira Belonzi was doing all of the service calls and keeping the trains running as best as she could. When I returned home, I’d do all the accounting and billing. It was organized chaos, but we both knew we would do whatever we needed to be successful.

Beaulieu: Can you talk about the company? What do you do?

Kurland: Branded Group is a full service, national facility management company. We diagnose and resolve any facility issues that arise for our clients. Our Be Better Experience and our team of industry experts provide services such as on-demand maintenance, construction management, and special project implementation for multi-site commercial facilities.

Beaulieu: How did it become one of the fastest growing companies in the country?

Kurland: I believe it’s because of our culture and our commitment to “be better” for our clients, community, and each other. Our core values are at the heart of all we do, and we strive to align purpose with profit. We continually examine our processes and programs to make them as efficient as possible and we treat our employees fairly, rewarding hard work, dedication, and innovation.

Our social impact program, One-For-One, has resonated with our team, clients, and nonprofit partners and it is directly tied to our business operations. That is, for every service call we receive, we donate a meal to Feeding America. We also host a number of other events, like virtual 5Ks, and backpack and holiday drives to help local families. Collectively, these various components of our culture drive engagement and retention, and people enjoy “coming” to work.

Beaulieu: Now let’s get to your book, which I loved by the way. This book is basically about improving yourself, becoming a better and more inspiring leader. What are some of the most important things you learned on the journey?

Kurland: I think one of the most important things I learned is that you must adopt a mindset of continuous improvement—never become complacent in anything in life. Even if you’re in a season of major wins, don’t sit back and enjoy the ride for too long. Always be looking for what’s coming next. Likewise, when you’re going through a challenge, that’s the time to dig deep and ask for help to solve the problem in front of you.

Beaulieu: I am impressed that you were self-aware enough to realize that you had to “fix” yourself as a leader. What was the “a-ha” moment when you realized this?

Kurland: I think the “a-ha” moment was when my roommate Jon Thomas called me out as I mentioned. It was a wake-up call to stop whining, being selfish, and fix what was broken. As hard as it was to hear, it was exactly what I needed.

Beaulieu: What drove you to get better? Can you share an example of when you knew you could, in fact, become a better leader?

Kurland: I think I was driven to Be Better the moment Jon said those words to me. I didn’t waste time getting my personal life in order because without your health, you really can’t accomplish anything. Second, the continual self-reflection along with therapy helped me to work through some of the challenges so I could begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Also, as my team grew, I realized that I had to think about their needs. I was providing their salary. I had to be better because they depended on me. As a leader, you may think it’s all about you, but it’s not. It’s about your team. The better you treat them, the more you give to them, the more valued and appreciated they will feel. Invest in your most valuable players—your team. You’ll never regret it.

Beaulieu: What is the most important thing our readers need to be a great leader?

Kurland: Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Be yourself. People can see through you in a heartbeat, and they can spot a fake a mile away. You have to do what you say you will do. Integrity and your character are of the utmost importance.

Beaulieu: Michael, thank you for taking the time to write this book. What motivated you to write it?

Kurland: I wanted to write the book primarily to share the lessons I’ve learned as a CEO and an entrepreneur. Like I said in my book, launching a business is not for the faint of heart, yet it can be very rewarding on so many levels. Additionally, maybe because of my story and some of the mistakes I’ve made, others could learn from them and do better. Of course, every business is different and not everything I did will work for other entrepreneurs, yet I feel that many of the Be Better principles will resonate with people both personally and professionally.

Beaulieu: What were your goals? What did you hope to accomplish?

Kurland: I hoped that by sharing my story that others would be inspired and know that anything is possible if you are willing to work hard and not give up. I believed that I would succeed even as I was driving across the country to launch Branded Group. I also did my research, so I knew what was needed in the market. I knew that I would do whatever it took to make my business the best it could be. I had the skills, the passion, and the connections.

Beaulieu: Who is the book for? Who should read and benefit from this book?

Kurland: The book is for anyone who is striving to be better, whether you are an entrepreneur, a CEO, or even a college student. The 13 Be Better principles are clear guidelines on how to be successful whether you are just starting out or are a seasoned leader. As we look to the future of work, we need to raise up a next generation of leaders who are resilient, empathetic, and innovative.

Beaulieu: I am always interested in writers and their process. How did you write this book? Did you write a little very day? What method did you use to write it?

Kurland: I had the support of a seasoned writer. She interviewed me at length, week after week, until I downloaded my full story. Working with a trusted writer was essential for me because, as a professional with ADHD, I know my limits and how I work best. This partnership enabled me to achieve a milestone that I could have not achieved on my own.

Beaulieu: Michael, as we conclude the interview, what is the single most important thing you would like to convey to our readers?

Kurland: Be yourself. Don’t imitate anyone else—even me. What worked for me and my business may not work for you. That’s fine. Spend time getting to know who you really are because, as a leader, people pay more attention to what you do than what you say. Integrity is critical. Authenticity is critical. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, and don’t be afraid to fail at life or in leadership. Just be better.

Beaulieu: Michael, thanks for the taking the time to do this today. I truly appreciate it and I’m sure our readers will as well.

Kurland: No problem. My pleasure.