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Archive for June, 2013

2011-topics-politics-rick-perryYippie Ki-yay!  I had the great good fortune to be part of a small luncheon hosted for NY business owners by Governor Rick Perry of Texas last Wednesday.  Gov. Perry was in Manhattan to recruit businesses to relocate to Texas.  His arguments were powerful and hard to gainsay.

Perry articulated a blunt mantra based on what he perceives as fiscal  insanity in the policies of NY, CA, IL, NJ, and others toward business and especially toward the entrepreneur.  He spoke in terms that are profoundly practical for most of us small businessmen in these states.  I would suggest these states, including my own, perk up their ears and listen.  They ignore his message at their peril.

Like all states, New York needs successful entrepreneurs to simply survive in a rapidly evolving national business climate. Many industries will surely be rendered obsolete in the next decade.  These dinosaurs must be replaced by leaner, more innovative companies.  Any city or state government that structurally impedes and straight-jackets the nimbleness and verve of the entrepreneurial community will surely pay a heavy price.

2593-Niall Ferguson (internet)Perry understands this in spades.  His pitch for Texas is couched in the idiom of freedom more than financial venality.  While he points to the many financial benefits for doing business in a consciously business friendly state like Texas, his greater argument is philosophical. You cannot consciously and spiritually disincentivize the passionate entrepreneur with the benighted thralldom of a wasteful, rigid, intrusive bureaucracy.  Perry’s key insight is that this kills the elan and the unique frisson of business risk- takers.  Businesses under this oligarchic yoke should and will leave their present venues.  And when they do, it will result in at least a partial “Detroitization” of the states they leave.  Even California and New York.  Good bye tax base.  Hello heavier tax burden on the companies remaining in such inefficient bureaucratic states.

Harvard professor Niall Ferguson, coincidental with Gov. Perry’s appearance in New York on June 19, wrote a compelling op-ed in the WSJ castigating what he calls “Planet Government.”  It is a neat companion piece to Perry’s plain talk. Ferguson quotes Clyde Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute who notes the particularly invidious effects of over-regulation on small businesses whose costs are over 36% higher per employee than they are for bigger firms.  The Federal Register—the official directory of regulation–today is 78,961 pages.  In 1986 it was 44,812 pages and in 1936 it was 2,620.

To survive, entrepreneurial businesses will increasingly  move to states like Texas that allow and encourage them to function freely and healthily.

tocquevilleFerguson concludes his WSJ piece with this quote from Alexis de Tocqueville‘s prescient book of 1833, Democracy in America.  De Tocqueville warned against a US government covering society’s surface “with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way….[The regulatory state] prevents things from being born: it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces the nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which their government is the shepherd.”

States like my New York cannot afford the smug and sanguine assumption that folks like us won’t shake the dust of governmental insanity from our entrepreneurial sandals.  Governor Perry certainly knows we will.  He is doing us all a favor by publicly offering his salubrious Texas ambiance as a compelling alternative.

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There is a value in developing a good relationship with an appropriate restaurant for business meals.  Short of the expense and exclusivity of the Harvard Club, Yale Club, NY Athletic Club, regional country clubs, et. al., it is often simpler and more convenient to meet with clients at a dependably discreet public eatery.

200295450-001Business meals offer specific advantages to the business owner wanting to quickly establish a peer working relationship with a potential client, employee, or vendor.

First of all, look at the pure science of a meal with someone.  According to Carol Kinsey Goman, a top authority on body language and the author of The Silent Language of leaders and other business best sellers, when you share a meal with someone, your consumption of glucose level rises, enhancing complex brain activities and regulating prejudice and aggressive behaviors.  Additionally, when individuals dine together they enact the same movements.  This unconscious mimicking can induce positive feelings towards both the other party and the matter under discussion.  (For more on this check out Goman’s Forbes blog of 3/14/13.)

But beyond the simple fact of the copacetic trop offered by having a collegial meal, there are some specific qualities that make for a business ambience conducive to an effective business meal.

  1. Pick a reasonably quiet restaurant. Restaurants increasingly seem to equate noise level with gastronomic efficacy.  Avoid these restaurants.  You do not want to strain to hear.
  2. Pick a restaurant with good service, the kind of place where waiters have the sense to be appropriately attentive, but not indiscreetly interruptive.
  3. Pick a restaurant that is centrally located and probably reasonably convenient for anyone you might want to meet with.
  4. Get to know waiters and the maitre’ d, treat them with respect, and tip them well.
  5. If you want to be efficient and graceful, arrange the bill on your card in advance.  (But be careful.  I once did this with an out of town client and the first thing he did was order a $900 bottle of Romanee Vivant burgundy.  Gulp.)

santayanaFor example, my business restaurant in New York is usually The Benjamin Steakhouse.  It is located one block from Grand Central Station in the center of NYC.  It is filled with people doing business.  There is a sense of privacy about conversations, both from your fellow diners and the wait staff.  It’s fairly priced for high quality food.  They are comfortable with you just ordering tea or a $200 meal.  Since I go there a lot, they allow me to sit and write or make calls alone after a business lunch.  Perfect for me.

The conviviality of a shared meal is not a bad way to initiate a business relationship or any relationship for that matter.  Hell, the central sacrament of Christianity is based on a Passover meal and dialogue Jesus had with his disciples.

Philosopher George Santayana said, “There is nothing to which men, while they have food and drink, cannot reconcile themselves.”  Thanks, George.

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672_creativity-in-life-1053044-flash-1053044-flashI love eccentric people.  I must admit I am partial to hiring them.  And it has almost always paid off for me.

When you can harvest the bounty of original personalities you often have something special indeed, particularly in an executive sales company like my own firm, Corporate Rain International.   Yes, original people are often arrogant, blunt, erratic, and moody.  But they are oh so wonderful.  They offer an extraordinary value to the employer who can stomach them.  For myself, I can not only stomach them, I truly swim in the joy of their company.  I am enlivened by their intuition, their humor,  their integrity, and, frequently, by their love.

Harking back to my experience with Tracy Goss’ Executive Reinvention Program last month  (“Overcoming Success and Transformational Entrepreneurship”), I think her seminar was seeking to imbue some of this originality and passion into very accomplished, but safe, corporate executives and managers, thereby creating transformational and impassioned corporate leaders who have the spirited orneriness and originality of the entrepreneur.

The big problem with hiring creative, independent folks is managing them.  I have a whole company of these folks.  People often ask me how I can manage them as a boss.  Well, the short answer is I basically don’t manage them.  I coax them, I spoil them, I admire them, I love them.  I let them fail and grow—and mostly succeed.  My risk is leavened by the fact that I never hire someone unless I think they are better than me.  I want a company of CEOs.  I only ask them to have a moral core, a commitment to my culture and community, and to follow simple administrative process.  I seldom need to fire my associates.

So how do you engage, utilize and retain these creative, questing souls?  Here are six specific suggestions.

  1. Give creatives meaningful work.  Creatives often think about the bigger issues in life, the forest as well as the trees.  Only give them interesting, challenging projects and  clients.  Give them hard stuff.
  2. Trust them.  Assuming they are ethical and diligent, let them fumfer their own their own way to success. Give them the freedom and flexibility to flourish.  Don’t force them into  undue structure or quotas.  It obviates the very reason you hired them.
  3. Be flexible.  If they excel, let them do it their way.  If they create superb results working five hours a week in their underwear at home, when you are paying them for 30 hours  in the office, who cares?
  4. Give them a sense of ownership.  Ask their opinion and take their advice seriously.  Make them feel valued, an essential part of the organism that is your company.
  5. Don’t expect to motivate them through money.  Of course pay them fairly, but research indicates these out-of-the-norm employees may actually be discouraged and perform  poorly when they are rewarded just for completing a task.  (Note the seminal research by Edward Deci, recorded in Psychological Bulletin, vol. 125, November, 1999.)   And note what that irreplaceable wise man of motivation and happiness, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi of Claremont Graduate University, says in his classic book, Flow:  “The  most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake.”  Indeed.jeff-bezos
  6. As a caveat, do not make pure creatives managers.

When Jeff Bezos hired a search firm to staff up his aborning and disruptive company Amazon, he reportedly was asked what he was looking for in an employee.  Supposedly he responded, “Give me you wackos.”  Amen, Brother Jeff.  Me, too.

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7The current abuse of power scandal at the IRS is, of course, alarming to all of us, and it’s investigation will take its course.  But it has got me thinking about the antithetical mindsets and personalities of the radically accountable entrepreneur and the anonymously unaccountable governmental bureaucrat.

First of all, taxes are important.  They allow a civil society to function.  I personally have no objection to raising taxes for legitimate and necessary functions.  We need our army.  We need our teachers, our highways, our doctors, our governmental engineers and architects, our social workers, our diplomats.  We need to have a compassionate safety net for our poorest citizens.

The problem, however, is not these noble and useful government functions that the IRS collects money to appropriately support.  The problem comes with a too large and unmanageable superstructure; an almost unimaginable governmental labyrinth that is simply too large to be supervised.  (Note my fear of the potential chaos of the mother of all unaccountable bureaucracies, Obamacare, coming in a mere seven months. (“Obamacare Agonistes and Entrepreneurship“)

When bureaucrats are unleashed without accountability, the personal nature of the people who are manning the cryptic recesses of the bureaucracy become especially important.

In the case of the IRS functionary, let us consider who is drawn to this task.  The IRS is universally hated, feared, and loathed.  So who is most likely to be drawn to such a darkly powerful, but increasingly unaccountable, job?  I would suggest that it attracts a certain number of incompetents seeking safe lives and job security.  Logic might also militate that the IRS would attract many who are not particularly sensitive to the practical happiness of their fellow man nor to constitutional law, but who rather like the bullying opportunities offered by their sinecures of unaccountable power.

Lois LernerThe current Congressional IRS hearings are revealing just such insensitive, arrogant, hypocritical people, perhaps abetted and goaded on by the the highest levels of the current administration.

The incentive to quash any force inimical to growing the power and constantly increased funding of this oligarchy is clear in the IRS’ stonewalling of Congressional subpoenas concerning harassment of citizens and non-profits not in lockstep with a philosophy of augmenting the constantly growing power of the IRS—an IRS increasingly immune to the pesky voices of citizens.

One may well conjecture that the very existence of the creative, impassioned entrepreneur is a burr in the saddle of such bureaucratic oligarchs.  While the present IRS excesses are not aimed specifically at our entrepreneurial community, their logic has implications for us as a fiercely independent source of societal business health outside government.  Our very existence is an admonishment and a defiance of the bureaucratic trop.

IRS official Lois Lerner took the Fifth Amendment to avoid self incrimination before Congress last week, but in written testimony she admitted targeting any person or organization “involved in limiting government or educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights….”   Dear me.

niemoeller_martin_grIn describing the Nazi takeover of Germany, Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller said the following, “In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.  Then they came came for the trade unionists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.  Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

Or, as Thomas Jefferson put it more succinctly, “The price of democracy is eternal vigilance.”

Thank you, Pastor Niemoller.  Thank you, Mr. Jefferson.

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