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Archive for March, 2014

220px-NeelemanI am convinced the future sales and success leaders of our entrepreneurial vocation will be those who make their companies matter in the world.  Everywhere I look these days that fact keeps hitting me squarely between the eyes.

Case in point:  David Neeleman.  You may well ask whatever happened to David Neeleman?  Well he didn’t just disappear after essentially being fired from JetBlue (his own company) in 2007.  He went on to found Azul Brazilian Airlines, which is on the verge of becoming the number two airline in Brazil after just five years, grossing over five billion in sales during 2013.

I had the good fortune to hear David speak last week at the Darien, CT library.  I find him very much in the line of new business leaders who find remarkable service, spiritual generosity, and a sense of giving back to the universe the key to their success.

For Neeleman the question to focus on is:  Does your company matter?  Would it be missed?  Would you as its leader be missed?  The companies that would be missed are the ones that matter.  Neeleman’s list includes Amazon, Apple, and his own JetBlue.

Neeleman bases his entrepreneurial work on three basic business principals.  They are:

  1. Make your people feel your company is the best place in the world to work and they will sell your product or service for you.  Make your employees feel this is the best job they ever had and they will pass on to your customers their own happiness and sense of being cherished.
  2. 69515_002.tifExercise flawless execution at every point of contact with your customer.  Trust your employees to execute at every stage of customer interaction, but systematically check to make sure–much like Ronald Reagan, who famously said of his diplomacy with the USSR, “Trust, but verify.”
  3. Use your failures to solidify your brand and your passion for service.  When there is a problem use it to make people to love you even more.  Make things right.  It builds loyalty and trust.  Offer exceptional service and courtesy even in the midst of disaster.  People increasingly trust word of mouth more than any amount of advertising and your customers will sell for you.

As David succinctly puts it, “Too much service is not enough.”

In a speeding world of increasingly cacophonous claims of revolutionary innovation, I am convinced the real sales differentiator of the future is service of the highest order–the sort of service that can only exist in companies with a through-branded trope of unconditional love, if you will.  That is, a passionate caring at every level of a company, starting with the owner or CEO who walks a daily walk of unswervingly serving both her employees and her customers.

I am reminded of a story I heard Tony Hsieh tell at a book signing for Delivering Happiness in 2010.  Hsieh recounts he was at a sales conference in Santa Monica, CA and, after a night of bar hopping came back with a group of friends to his hotel.  The group decided they all wanted pizza.  The hotel kitchen was closed.  In a fit of drunken braggadocio Hsieh recounts, he dared his friend to call Zappos customer service and ask for a phone number for a local 24 hour Santa Monica pizza delivery.  They called Zappos and within two minutes were supplied with several numbers by the Zappos call center employee.  Such was the depth of unconditional service orientation Hsieh had steeped in his firm.

People like David Neeleman, Tony Hsieh, John Mackey, Steve Jobs, Danny Meyer, et al. are a growing cadre of leaders who’s sales strategy is ultimately to inform through their very existence and lived public presence that their companies have meaning well beyond their various products.

95c40/huch/1904/26If a dawning new paradigm for entrepreneurial success is mattering, and I believe it is, the main way I, as an owner, can make my company matter is to make myself and my actions matter, hopefully imbuing meaning throughout my firm and employees and into anyone and anything my company touches.  Good is greed.

Rabindranath Tagore says, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy.  I awoke and saw that life was service.  I acted and behold, service was joy.”  Thanks, Tagore.

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I’ve always been a lousy test taker.  I was intrigued to read last week that the 88-year old SAT (Student Aptitude Test) is being “dumbed down.”  Too late for me, I’m afraid.

9e059f12d382e2658362442e53433721.443x385x1In a major change to its traditional measures, starting in 2016 students will no longer be required to write an essay and will no longer be penalized for a wrong answer.  According to the College Board, this is in support of the national movement to “better align” what high school students actually learn.  What that means is the SAT will be designed to hide the fact that students are learning less and less in grades K-12.

The LA Times (LATimes.com, 3/5/14) reports College Board President David Cameron saying that the revised reading exam will drop the more difficult vocabulary words to “focus on words students will use over and over again.”  Ditto math questions and reasoning, which will supposedly be linked to “real life” questions.

So what does this “democratization” of testing say for the future of entrepreneurship?  Well, it says much the same thing as the wide-spread practice of social promotion in K-12 education.  So what if many of our students are not performing to the level of their accreditation.  So what if unprepared students are being poured into our colleges and into life.  Let’s just lower the standards and say our children’s vitiated degrees represent an acceptable preparation for a job.  This is the future pool of our employees, Brothers and Sisters.  I’m worried.

Here is what is actually being changed, according to the March 12, 2014 NY Post.

  1. The writing section will become optional.
  2. Less common words will be gone.
  3. No more penalty for wrong guesses.
  4. Required math knowledge will be considerably narrowed.

0407anne_nealIn the same article the Post reports Anne Neal, President of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, fretting over the “elimination of more difficult vocabulary and writing requirements,” and the watering down of the math standards.  She feels the new SAT simply is an attempt to “fudge over” students’ shortcomings.

Furthermore, it really makes no sense to reduce standards when our biggest educational conundrums—in workforce development, national security, and even in immigration policy— center around STEM (science, technology, entgineering, and mathmatics) issues.

Patric Hale, COO of The CEO Show Magazine, sent me a rather trenchant email last Monday commenting on the dumbing down of American education and its SAT measurement.  Says Partic:

“The SAT people are right.  No sense in having that essay question because the next generation only uses Twitter, so 140 characters is all they need.  And let’s not ask any theoretic math questions at all, but stick just to practical math.  Of course, since no high school seems to teach kids the fundamentals of either personal finance or economics—that is, math they REALLY need in real life—what is left?

As for vocabulary—let’s only ask them about words they use all the time.  I’m thinking here “awesome”, “cool”, “narly”, “like”, crack”, “fly”, “bummed out”.  Maybe they could also set up a section on abbreviations, too, like:  OMG, IMO, IMHO, LOL, etc.  (that means et cetera and is a “foreign” word, so they probably won’t include it on the test).”

hannah_arendt_ap_imgI agree with Patric.  Our educational infrastructure is increasingly a thing of shreds and patches, quite insufficient to the present task, at worst a disaster.  Therefore, the educational establishment, to avoid  accountability and revealing its advanced state of being undressed in public, simply lowers the bar and says, “Problem solved.”  Yeah.  Right.

The whole thing fills me with stomach level sadness.  Also worry as to the future of my children and of transformational entrepreneurial innovation.  India and China must be licking their lips.

Political philosopher Hanna Arendt warned in 1958,  “We have almost succeeded in leveling all human activities to the lowest common denominator.”  Quite, Hannah.  Thanks.

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Hammer and sickle big[1]Though a failed governing system in historical practice, communist ideals can be useful in thinking about creating a happy, nimble entrepreneurial company.

I attempt to mold my boutique executive sales outsourcing firm, Corporate Rain International, as close as possible on a communist archetype.  Or at least as close as one can get to that and still be a committed, passionate Ayn Randian capitalist.

This is not the prima facia paradox it seems.

My firm, of course, as all companies, must make money to survive and prosper.  But it operates with a dual goal of creating meaning in tandem with making money—the former being the ultimate genesis of the latter.

This is becoming a somewhat less radical notion.  This year Harvard Business Review reported a recent longitudinal study conducted by Sigal Barsade and Olivia (Mandy) O’Neill entitled, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”  (HBR Blog online, Jan. 13, 2014)  Barsade and O’Neill describe the business efficacy of what they call a culture of “companionate love.”  Basically their research shows that employees reported much higher levels of commitment, satisfaction, teamwork, and personal and corporate health in a culture of warmth, safety, and personal growth.  (Well, duh, as my daughter would say.)

While this may be much easier to institute in a small company than a large one, it is increasingly being proved out in larger, well-known organizations, as well.  Note that John Mackey’s Whole Foods has a set of management principles that simply begin with “Love” and PepsiCo lists “caring” as its first guiding principle on its website.  Tony Hsieh’s Zappos states as a core value, “We are more than a team…we are a family.  gty_john_mackey_kb_130118_wg[1]We watch out for each other, care for each other and go above and beyond for each other.”  Note also the seminal implementations of Paul Spiegelman’s Return On Values principles at Beryl and now at Stericycle.  (“Culture, ROI, and Entrepreneurship”.  Oct. 15, 2013)

So, here are my six personal principles for creating what I term a communist capitalist model for corporate health.

  1. Good is greed.  Not greed is good.  Good is greed.  This is simply a through-branded corporate belief in a raison d’tre of personal growth for each member of the company, as well as to the well-being of the greater world we live in.
  2. A company of equals.  I mean this quite literally.  I truly try never to hire anyone who is not better than me.  This includes the receptionist.  I hire people who I can learn from.  I strive to create a flat management culture of decentralization, where each member is her own CEO in a through-branded culture of “micro bosses” under a constantly reinforced rubric of assumed common ethics and a radical orientation of customer care.
  3. The purpose of the organization is personal growth for all members and clients.  Note what is described as “companionate love” by Barsade and O’Neill in the HBR citation above.  This includes lovingly encouraging valued executives to move on when they begin to outgrow your firm.  I’ve had four corporate VPs of Business Development hired from my cadre of sales executives in 18 years, as well as two successful entrepreneurs,  I’m proud of that.  All still friends.
  4. Love.  My friend Tim Sanders wrote a wonderful book several years ago called “Love is the Killer App.”  That title sums it up pretty well for me.  Corporate commitment to this overarching principle effortlessly evinces itself as a specific trope of consistent customer care and service throughout a corporation.
  5. Giving back.  Specific corporate acts of eleemosynary generosity.  In my firm’s case, we give away a free three month business development campaign to a small, deserving non-profit each year.
  6. Lived CEO leadership, example, and guidance.  My personal struggle with with addiction eighteen years ago led me to form my company based in strengthening my own principles of recovery.  artworks-000051390623-de7wjv-crop[1]Specifically, I wanted to create a community I could both live in with happiness and satisfaction, and in which I also could be constantly lifted up and buttressed myself in my spiritual “becoming” by a set of kick-ass fellow travelers.  I believe bone-deep good leadership is grounded in the permeation of personal values shown in the little consistent everyday acts of each owner and entrepreneur.

Well, that’s quite enough from me this week.  Here’s a quote I like from sales wise man Brian Tracy.  “If you wish to achieve worthwhile things in your personal and career life, you must become a worthwhile person in your own self-development.”  Thank you, Brian.

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mae-westMae West famously said, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.”  Well.  Maybe not.

Take advice for instance.  Too much of a good thing may be a bad thing.

Successful entrepreneurs are hard-working, diligent searchers.  They are always looking for improvements and solutions anywhere they can find them.  Sometimes too much so.

I was reminded of this in a meeting at Inc. Magazine last week.  I was attending a small business CEO Roundtable there with members of the Inc. 5000 Business Owners Council.  The evening was devoted to exploring our various challenges in a frank, discreet, collegial setting.  A lot of discussion was usefully had, but I was grabbed by the plaintive statement of one member, who received quite a load of advice, that she felt a bit overwhelmed with such the abundance of impassioned suggestions as came forth.

She had a point.  Ultimately entrepreneurship is a solitary game.  It is a fine line that must be walked between going completely with our own guts and following an overwhelming plethora of well-intended, seemingly authoritative advice.

I believe in radically institutionalizing systematic change for any business within the bounds of reasonable prudence.  But you can’t do everything and time is the entrepreneur’s greatest asset.  Learning where to alot our attention is crucial to success.

joe-queeanThere is no template answer to this.  Last month I met a successful founder of a fashion accessories company.  She told me of her diligence in following extensive and variegated advice she received for her entrepreneurial membership group, which happened to be EO (Entrepreneur’s Organization), an association offering mentoring, peer networking, and education.  (There are several of these organizations around for founders and entrepreneurs.)  The amount of ideas suggested by her colleagues that she had tried to implement was quite staggering.  It tired me out just listening to it.  Most of it was ineffective for her already successful company.  She clearly needed to do less experimental innovation, not more, to my mind.

I guess I think America has become too much a magical advice culture.  Joe Queenan of the WSJ wrote about this recently.  He says:

“The U.S. is addicted to advice.  Americans honestly believe that someone out there knows how to fix all our problems.  Maybe Oprah.  Maybe Dr. Phil.  Maybe

Barack Obama.  Maybe Ayn Rand.  Newspapers, magazines and television are filled with advice about health, finances, raising children dieting.  Don’t smoke.  Don’t text  on I-95.  Don’t allow your teenage son Vlad to disappear into his bedroom for the next decade.  Exercise 30 minutes a day.  Never buy stocks form men wearing ostrich-skin  shoes.  Why, then, are so many of us miserable, bankrupt, overweight chain smokers with horrible, illiterate kids?  The advice was out there.”  (WSJ, Feb. 8,2014, p. C-1)

Excessive attention to advice can vitiate the very essence of an entrepreneur.  In most successful entrepreneurs I know there is a certain je ne sais quois that really animates their success, which perhaps even they cannot quite articulate, but is, nevertheless, their true center.  That core must remain the Shining City on the Hill for long-term effectiveness in creative business, no matter how compelling the external advice.

For sure, I can tell you  one thing to be wary of—that being the cheap advice that comes out of the hungry desperation endemic to massive networking events, which can often be a mad array of self-important, but insecure people, seeking to impress.

Napoleon_Hill_young_portraitMy own feeling about advice comes from the wisdom of AA and other 12 Step programs. One of their maxims is “Stick with the winners.”  This does not mean to toady up to the rich, the famous, and the successful.  It does mean listen to people who effectively walk their talk over an extended period with practical effectiveness and personal humility.

One of the earliest practitioners of “success” literature was author Napoleon Hill, who wrote Think and Grow Rich.  Hill said, “The number one reason people fail in life is because they listen to their friends, family, and neighbors.”  Thanks, Napoleon.

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