Story by LISA ANDERSON & JODI ANDERSON
Chris Cahill & Trevor Bonnell
“Every single one of us is a hero, if you know your tribe.” – Chris Cahill
Chris Cahill electrifies any room he enters. He pulled up a chair at my desk, along with his business partner Trevor Bonnell—the heart and the science of Q4 Quest, respectively—and launched into his story. “I’m a storyteller, and I’m good at reading people. I’m good at working a room. I could [give] impromptu TED Talks if I wanted to, and people would…” He mimes a cheering crowd. “That’s a natural gift.”
From an early age, Chris wanted to be “the best of the best,” so he joined the Marines right out of high school. He jumped into college classes upon completing his service. During the day, he sold cars and worked at a mortgage company. His talent and drive were undeniable: within a month, he had outperformed every other salesperson at the dealership.
Management recognized what they had and told him, “You’re so good at this, why don’t you go and build your own team?” Chris was 21. He did just that, and then his managers at the mortgage company caught wind of what he was doing. They, too, asked him to build a team. He brought his dealership team to the mortgage office and built the number one sales branch in the US, where he was again the top salesperson, “which made me the number one mortgage guy in the country.”
He worked long hours, but was making more in a month than most people make in a year. Chris states matter-of-factly, “What I learned was hard work. I learned salesmanship. I learned how to build a team. What I struggled with was how to scale it, because you’re never content with where you are.” He says that’s when he became a “student of the game.” He switched his major and eventually earned a couple of master’s degrees, one in finance.
A Desire to Serve
Just as the mortgage industry began to slow down, Chris received an offer to join Edward Jones as a financial planner. “Financial planning gives you the ability to impact people’s lives. So then, I got really excited. Now I’m back to helping the community, which I really like.” Chris began to thrive as he pursued opportunities that aligned with his purpose. “My purpose in life is transformation. It’s to make the community a better place. I’m still driven by the desire to serve.”
Chris began to integrate his faith and work in a way he had never done. He started taking classes in theology—in fact, he had never really stopped taking classes—and began working with the homeless, people with low incomes, and food shelters. Chris had initially pursued an education degree, but found he did not connect well with kids. He loved teaching adults, though, and held weekly financial seminars, where he began to hone his unique approach to financial success. “I started to use all my salesmanship to craft stories to help them learn how to use it in a way that would transform their life. And I learned that if I could help them see the world through a lens that was slightly different than what they’d been taught through the status quo, they could all of a sudden learn to break their own status quo.”
In 2003, Chris teamed up with the Chamber of Commerce and established the Entrepreneurial Academy. His mission was to help “business owners craft their story in a way that would drive business and how to invest the money that they get from that to reinvest in themselves so that they could compound their ability to impact the community and create jobs.” This led directly to Q4, which he envisioned as a training ground for businesses that cannot figure out how to grow.
Chasing the Dollar
Despite his success in Florida, Chris accepted an offer from Merrill Lynch and moved to Baltimore to be the producing manager. Their training model, at the time, was one of attrition: hire 100 people, have them dial their butts off, fire or lose most of them, and keep the one or two that made it through sheer grit. Hire another 100 people the next month. Rinse and repeat. “It was a bad business model,” Chris observes wryly.
He offered a different approach. Why don’t we hire people directly out of college, and help them find their story and people who connect with that story, so that they can organically grow relationships with their clients? Thus, his training program, Young Guns, was born.
Lincoln Financial was impressed by Chris’ success with Young Guns and invited him to help them develop a training program. Through these experiences, he shifted the focus of Q4 to training trainers. It became more of “a discipleship program.”
Due to his enormous success (including financially), Chris started receiving speaking invitations. He was the keynote speaker at a convention in Tennessee when he had an epiphany. “My goal was always to help someone else.” This began to weigh on him as he returned to his penthouse suite, one night, and looked himself in the mirror. “I’m not doing that. I’m chasing the dollar. What am I doing? This is not my purpose.” He was drawn to the Bible lying on the hotel bed and starting reading. He felt God telling him to “go love somebody.” He immediately hopped on a plane to return home.
Realigning his purpose
Getting away from his purpose and putting himself first nearly came at a terrible price. Chris was determined to forge a different path. He and his family moved back to Florida, where he began to attend a seminary. He was a pastor in charge of ministries at his church, while doing consulting on the side.
He began to rebuild Q4, and eventually, stepped away from the church. He shifted the mission of Q4 to focus on empowering businesses to tell their stories and transform their communities. “I’m serving God by serving the business community that [has] never otherwise heard the message that they are beautiful inside and were called for a purpose.”
Chris also went back to his roots in outreach ministry by starting I60. The name is based on Chapter 60 from the Book of Isaiah in the Bible, which begins, “Arise, shine, for your light has come…Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” The ministry partners with churches to focus on literacy, prison ministry, and recidivism reduction.
Trevor prefaced his story by comparing himself to Chris, who “took you 50,000 feet up in a balloon,” while he kept his feet firmly on the ground. But that is the key to their success: one person has to be the tether.
Unassuming, but no less driven, Trevor, after graduating from the University of North Florida, gave the financial world a try—”boring.” He gave himself two options: cop or firefighter. “People shoot less at firefighters.” He attended fire college in Ocala and took a job in Orange County, starting his career at the ripe old age of 27.
Eventually, Trevor realized that firefighting was not his purpose. He did not like that he was a “glorified Uber driver” or that getting a job depended so much on whom you knew. He appreciated the experience but did not want to possibly leave his wife and two kids, due to an accident, or die soon after retirement from the myriad health complications suffered by career firefighters. When his wife decided to go back to school, he decided to get his masters in Industrial Organizational Psychology.
Intent in action
Trevor will be quick to say that he is not a behavior analyst. “I study intent in action.” He is a psychologist, who studies behavior and science from the human perspective. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Trevor was ready to leave his firefighting job and return to Ocala, where he had support from his family. He began working for his dad, doing safety supervision and fleet management.
“When people change jobs, they are either running to or running from something.” Trevor had felt underappreciated and undervalued as a first responder, but he didn’t want to just run away. “I want to have purpose, mission, drive, impact.” He asked himself, “What am I raising my voice to do?”
Chris and Trevor attended the same high school but at different times. They did not know each other, but had someone in common: Trevor’s sister. When they did meet, it seemed like the perfect fit. “I needed to find someone who shared [a similar] background, that had that servant’s heart, wanted to lead, understood the hero thing, and had all of that together.” Chris also needed the behavior psychology side.
Finding the Inner Hero
Q4 Quest tells its business clients that it is “in the business of helping you become the hero to your audience that you were called to be.” Eighty-percent of businesses fail within the first three years, Chris points out. After a lot of study, he concluded that it was because “your ‘why’ is not aligned with your tribe. Every single one of us is a hero, if you know your tribe.”
Q4 stands for four questions:
- Who matters most (a specific audience)?
- Why do they matter most, and how are they different from you?
- What do you have to work with? The three “R’s”: resources, relationships, razzle-dazzle (or superpower).
- How do YOU define success? Create your own definition.
“Q4 becomes the hero’s quest,” says Chris. On life’s journey, you can go with the flow that is your purpose, or you can struggle to forge a path that is contrary to your purpose. You have to align your message with your tribe’s needs. “If you get your story right, people who want it will ask ‘how do I get more?'”
Their business works with a lot of businesses that offer financial services, an industry that is highly results-driven. But Chris does not think it has to be. “If I stop holding people accountable to results, and I align them with their true actions and what they are organically put on this earth to do”—in other words, “with what you’re gonna do anyway”—they will reap the rewards. “No matter how much an apple tree tries to make an orange, it’s always going to make an apple.” So, why not strive to be the best apple tree?
The Hero’s Quest
In 2020, Chris and Trevor co-wrote a book, The Q4 Quest for Financial Advisors: The Secret of How Top Performers Are Developing Tomorrow’s Best Practices Today. They plan on doing a speaking tour, along with working privately with clients. “We work well together,” says Chris. They are 180 degrees different, but their approaches are complementary. “I help people find their inner hero so they can attract their tribe, and he comes behind me and helps you find money to make it a reality.”
They plan to take the Q4 framework beyond the business world. They are already seeing success using it in the I60 ministry with addiction counseling and with ex-felons. If they can find their superpower, says Trevor, they can freely be themselves no matter where they are, behind bars or out in the world.
“Q4 Kids is a dream we have,” says Chris. They want to create a homeschool program to reach kids where the system is failing them, provide resources for teachers and tutors, and make the material feel relevant to the kids, especially at-risk teens.
Chris and Trevor want to use their business model to teach everyone to find their inner superhero and their tribe, so they can impact their communities. In this way, “we are all infinitely better.” Q4 is, at its heart, the hero’s quest.