Archive for the “Entrepreneur” Category
Posted by Tim Askew in Blog, Brexit's Hopeful Message, Corporate Rain, Entrepreneur, tags: Bloomberg.com, Bocconi University, Brexit, Britain, Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffe, Europen Union, Fabrizio Pedroni, Fiat, Firem, France, Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity, Greece, Italy, Lawrence Lessig, Margaret Thatcher, Milan, Portugal, Spain, Statecraft, UK
In 2002, Margaret Thatcher wrote prophetically about the future of the European Union. She said in her book Statecraft, “…that such an unnecessary and irrational project as building a European superstate was ever embarked upon will seem in future years to be perhaps the greatest folly of the modern era.” Fourteen years later the British electorate seems to agree.
In the midst of the post-Brexit cacophony–both apocalyptically gloomy and euphorically joyful–I do not see how the decision of Britain to depart the EU can be anything but positive for our moribund European entrepreneurial brethren. The one foundational essential for healthy entrepreneurship is freedom. This is what Britain is attempting to reclaim through Brexit.
Britain has chosen to reject the sclerotic rigidity of the arrogant bureaucrats in Brussels. It is saying “No” to the suffocating pillow of micromanagement that has mandated rules and one-size-fits-all standards for all European products and services–from teapots to toasters to the fat content of cheese. It marks the end of power, at least in the UK, to the tyranny of over 40,000 overpaid, unaccountable oligarchs and four unelected “Presidents” over all aspects of British business life. It is a full-scale rebellion against the creeping, faceless totalitarianism of what the Hunger Games movies call “The Capitol.” It gives European entrepreneurship hope.
There has been a cost to the expanding regulatory burden and governmental micro-management of small business in Europe. And that cost continues playing out. Entrepreneurship is virtually dead in many EU countries.
This week my eye was caught by a short pre-Brexit article in a file I had printed out from Bloomberg.com. It was about a small Italian company called Firem. Firem has sales of $4 million per year and a work force of 40, but hasn’t posted a profit since 2008. Here’s what happened.
“Early in August, Fabrizio Pedroni wished his employees a happy summer holiday and told them to return to work in three weeks. That night he began dismantling his electrical component factory in northern Italy and packing its machinery off to greener pastures. “Had I told them earlier about any plans to shift the production abroad, they would have occupied my factory and seized all my stuff,’ says Pedroni, owner of his family company Firem. “The plain truth is that I wanted my business to survive, and there weren’t the right conditions for me to operate in Italy any longer.”
Leaving Italy was the last thing Pedroni wanted to do. But he could no longer survive under the rigid EU strictures in Italy. He was forced to make a clandestined escape in lieu of the freedom to run a nimble, creative small business in his own country.
Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffe, professor of business strategy at Milan’s Bocconi Uiversity says, “Pedroni, like many entrepreneurs before him…abandoned the ship called Italy because it was the only way to survive. In Italy most businesses like Firem have been posting losses for at least five years.” From 2001 to 2011, about 27,000 Italian companies, each with annual sales more than $3 million, moved abroad, with a concomitant accompanying loss of revenue and employment for Italy. (Much bigger firms, like Fiat, are also abandoning Italy.)
Italy is not alone in Europe with it’s failing anti-entrepreneurial economy. Spain, France, Portugal, and Greece face very similar issues. In none of these countries can you easily adjust to the rapidly evolving world economy. You can’t move, you can’t downsize, you cannot fire or reduce workforce, you cannot change–finally resulting in a vertiginous economic descent for these countries of old Europe.
Furthermore, the countries that have embraced America’s traditional capitalist freedoms and processes (like Poland, Singapore, Vietnam, and India) are beginning to eat even America’s lunch as well as old Europe’s, beating us at our own game by nurturing rather than repressing entrepreneurial animal spirits. American historian Markham Shaw Pyle says, “If the power to tax is the power to destroy, the power to regulate is no less so.”
Brexit may well be the canary in the coal mine for the triumphalist, over regulated, oligarchic state and a plangent death knell for the EU. Brexit is saying that hubristic, statist government overreach just doesn’t work to create a salubrious business climate.
So Britain has made the first move to reject the regulatory snake oil and closet totalitarianism of Brussels. Can Frexit, Spexit, Grexit, et. al. be far behind? I, for one, hope not.
Lawrence Lessig, in Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity says, “Free culture depends upon vibrant competition. Yet the effect of the law today is to stifle just this kind of competition. The effect is to produce an over-regulated culture, just as the effect of too much control in the market is to produce an over-regulated-regulated market.” Thank you, Lawrence.
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Posted by Tim Askew in Addiction, Blog, Corporate Rain, Entrepreneur, White Collar Criminality, tags: Bill McCarthy, Breathing Under Water, Elon Musk, Jeff Grant, John Grisham, John Hagan, Lynn Springer, Mark Cuban, Northwestern, Progressive Prison Project, Robert Rohr, SEC, Steve Jobs, The Greenwich Sentinel, UC Davis, Union Theological Seminary
I found this line in a recent John Grisham best seller. “Prisons are fascinating places, especially when the inmates are educated white-collar types.”
The distance between the criminal and the successful entrepreneur is not so very far. We both intuitively operate out-of-the-box with an instinct for not accepting the status quo. We both are not inclined to accept the tyranny of the given. We both intuitively color outside the lines.
Note the work of Bill McCarthy (UC Davis) and John Hagan (Northwestern) who report that people who are the most successful at crime have a strong desire to succeed, to take risk and to live by their own rules. Hmm. Sounds very much like most driven entrepreneurs.
I recently met a wonderful man named Jeff Grant who heads up an organization in Connecticut called the Progressive Prison Project, a non-profit dedicated to guiding and supporting business owners and white-collar executives. who have been accused of, convicted of, or been incarcerated for crimes ranging from DUI to financially motivated felonies.
Jeff Grant feels entrepreneurs, single-practitioners, DBAs, and small businessmen increasingly face exceptional dangers of drifting into damaging legal problems and even incarceration for a variety of reasons.
- Entrepreneurs lack the infrastructure resources to keep abreast with the increasingly complicated and onerous regulatory load emanating from all levels of government. They are overwhelmed with putting out constant fires in their real business. They have neither time or nor the inclination to spend days boning up on staying exactly on the right side ofevolving law.
- Furthermore, entrepreneurs frequently don’t even have a peer-level partner to challenge them on their interpretation and/or ignorance of compliance issues. It becomes all too easy to carelessly cut corners.
- The combination of daily pressure and aloneness may make it tempting to make a deal with the devil—a deal often abetted by drugs or alcohol or sex, which fuzz over and break down a man or woman’s moral center. More than in most professions, entrepreneurs may be tempted to take ethical risks when bills threaten to overwhelm.
- Entrepreneurs often have big egos and suffer from hubris. When they do not have the tools or knowledge for compliance, it is hard for them to admit it. They (we) can suffer from grandiosity. We may begin to exaggerate, to lie, to puff ourselves up. We sometimes don’t want to admit a core fear that we may not be the master of the universe, that we are not Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, or Mark Cuban. Not even remotely. We may begin to exaggerate, to lie, to puff ourselves up.
- Entrepreneurs are dreamers who can drift into not living in the rigorous reality of what their life actually is.
Jeff Grant can speak with authority on this subject. He spent 14 months in a federal prison for a financially motivated crime stemming from bad decisions made under the dual influence of prescription drugs and financial pressure.
Grant headed a highly successful legal practice in Westchester County, New York. The Greenwich Sentinel reports Grant as saying, “In the course of rehabilitating an [achilles heel] injury, I got hooked on prescription narcotics. Doctors were more than happy to continue to prescribe them to me, and I took them for about ten years.”
Grant gradually lost control of his firm and eventually couldn’t meet payroll—at which point he made up the shortfall by dipping into client escrow funds. He lost his company, his marriage, his money, his respected position in the community, his freedom.
What he found in prison was that there was little or no support for small businessmen like himself. His present wife and Co-Founder of the Progressive Prison Project, Lynn Springer, puts it this way:
“Typically in the upper-middle class, where white collar criminals tend to come from, the husband has been the bread winner. Generally, these are people who are considered to be very well off. All of a sudden, all of their assets may have been seized by the SEC. They don’t know how they are going to buy food, how they are going to heat their home, how they are going to put gas in their car.” (The Greenwich Sentinel)
Furthermore, when Grant came out of prison he had to deal with what he calls the “schadenfreude” of many folks who took a closet joy in seeing the mighty fall. Grant thinks there is an ecosystem problem in our society in which the rich person and the celebrity are both adored and virulently hated, and there is little sympathy, governmental or societal, for the fallen entrepreneur, who many see as a stand-in for the greedy 1%.
Grant speaks with power out of his own humiliation and suffering. He has the well-earned authority of a deeply humbled man. After his release from prison he got an M. Div. degree from Union Theological Seminary and founded the Progressive Prison Project, which is the first ministry in the U.S. created to provide support and counseling to individuals and families with white-collar and other non-violent incarceration issues. (For further information on Jeff Grant try www.prisonist.org. Also related to this issue check out my Inc. column of last year titled Criminals and Entrepreneurs.)
Robert Rohr, in his excellent book on addiction, Breathing Under Water, says, “People who fail to do it right, by even their own definition right, are those who often break through to enlightenment and compassion.” Like Jeff Grant. Thank you, Robert Rohr.
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Posted by Tim Askew in Blog, Corporate Rain, Entrepreneur, Modern Entrepreneur, P.T. Barnum, tags: Bo Burlingham, Chuck Todd, Danny Meyer, Donald Trump, George Costanza, John Mackey, Kim Kardashian, Kip Tindell, L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, Meet The Press, P.T. Barnum, Phineas Taylor Barnum, The Art of Money Getting or Gol, Tony Hsieh
Phineas Taylor Barnum (P.T. Barnum) once said, “A salary was not sufficient for me.”
I love P.T. Barnum. Yes, he was bit of a scoundrel, a scalawag, and a con man. But he also was prescient in his seminal and practical thinking about business. Perhaps the first modern entrepreneur.
I was reminded of this watching Meet The Press back on January 10. Host Chuck Todd, interviewing Donald Trump, recited a litany of unflattering comparisons sometimes used to describe The Donald, as he interrogated Trump. The list included “Kim Kardashian, Biff (from Back to the Future), George Costanza, and P.T. Barnum.” Said Todd, “Any of those you consider a compliment?” Trump’s immediate response? “P.T. Barnum.”
Trump has a point.
P.T. Barnum wrote the most wonderful essay back in 1880 entitled The Art of Money Getting, or Golden Rules for Making Money. In 20 very short chapters Barnum limns a remarkably useful philosophy of business that anticipates the cutting-edge business insights of now. It is simply and clearly written, almost like a contemporary self-help book, full of aphoristic wisdom, as well as sound, day-to-day business advice. The book deals with fundamental human well-being, as much as the amassing of wealth. The roster of short chapters in this essay neatly sum up Barnum’s thinking and advice. They are:
- Don’t mistake your vocation
- Select the right location
- Avoid debt
- Whatever you do, do it with all your might
- Depend upon your own personal exertions
- Use the best tools
- Don’t get above your business
- Learn something useful
- Let hope predominate but be not too visionary
- Do not scatter your powers
- Be systematic
- Read the newspapers
- Beware of “outside operations”
- Don’t endorse without security
- Advertise your business
- Be polite and kind to your customers
- Be charitable
- Don’t blab
- Preserve your integrity
It is impossible to go through all of Barnum’s insights in a short essay like this, but here are a few that struck me as remarkably modern.
- Barnum anticipated the current warnings of neurological science, which have pretty much disproved the efficacy of “multi-tasking” in the age of social media. Barnum says, “When a man’s undivided attention is centered on one object, his mind will constantly be suggesting improvement of value, which would escape him if his brain was occupied by a dozen different subjects at once.”
- Barnum understood the dignity and the non-monetary value of autonomous creative enterprise, saying, “There are many rich poor men, while there are many others who have never possessed so much money as some rich persons squander in a week, but who are nevertheless really richer and happier than any man can ever be.”
- He understood the value of through-branded culture and a servant’s heart, a trope passionately espoused currently by exemplars like John Mackey, Danny Meyer, Bo Burlingham, Kip Tindell, Tony Hsieh, etc. Barnum says, “Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business. Large stores, gilt signs, flaming advertisements, will all prove unavailing if you or your employees treat your patrons abruptly. The truth is, the more kind and liberal a man is, the more generous will be the patronage bestowed on him.”
- Barnum understood that creating something out of nothing is basically a commitment to the impossible. He understood that achieving the impossible is what entrepreneurs do. “If I shoot at the sun I may hit a star.”
- He learned from failure. He was undiscouraged by his several bankruptcies.
I don’t mean to wax hagiographic about Barnum. He was a merry hoaxer. A cheery fraudster. A great and brilliant showman, not unlike Donald Trump. Certainly a con man not unreminiscent of L. Frank Baum’s Great and Mighty Oz, the man behind the curtain.
But he was also a truly great and passionate businessman, an unapologetic capitalist, saying, “…money getters are the benefactors of our race.” He was a courageous risk-taker—a Randian hero and an ur-entrepreneur. The Steve Jobs of the 19th century.
His little book The Art of Money Getting… is a wise compendium of practical moral philosophy and human life lessons, as well as a wonderful guide to creating a salubrious font of everyday business health. He understood and celebrated business’ ability to create meaning, as well as money.
He commented, “Money is in some respects life’s fire: it is an excellent servant, but a terrible master.” Many thanks, P.T. Barnum.
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Given we’re entering the early stages of a prolonged political season and we have already been treated to two scintillating debates, this seems an opportune moment to refresh an old Zen parable I first heard from storied pastoral theologian, Henri Nouwen, one of my mentors at divinity school back in the day. (Isn’t that a great moniker—divinity school?) He first heard this parable from Thich Nhat Hanh, a highly regarded Buddhist monk, teacher and author of over 100 books.
The short vignette tells the story of a politician, who, in a moment of rare self-awareness, decided to visit a Zen master to ask for wisdom in how he might govern. Nan-in, the Zen master, served him tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full and then just kept on pouring. The politician watched the cup overflow until he could no longer restrain himself.
“It’s overflowing, Nan-in! The cup cannot hold any more.”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “You are full of your own opinions and attitudes.
How can I teach you anything unless you first empty your cup?”
At the time I was a cocky young stand-in for the politician. For that matter, I suppose I might as well admit that I’ve matured into a cocky middle-aged stand-in. The only difference between then and now is that experience has confirmed this basic law of personal physics, which predicts you can’t take in something new if you’re already full of yourself.
I’ll leave it to you to determine how this might apply to high profile politicians. But that’s only a distraction from the important discovery that the work leading to spiritual maturity involves a relentless pursuit of emptiness a la Nan-in’s tea cup. It’s the emptiness created by humble acceptance that we know less than we think we do and that God is surely larger than our last opinion. This is the emptiness that allows us to listen deeply and ripen values like respect, compassion and personal integrity. Find this in another, and you’ve likely found a friend. But to find it in oneself, well, that would require some emptying for certain.
-Rev. Dr. Stephen Bauman
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Posted by Tim Askew in Blog, Corporate Rain, Donald Trump, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, tags: Bill Zanker, CBS News, Donald Trump, Good Morning America, PBS, Rich Dad Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki, The Art of the Deal, The Learning Annex, Think Big: Make It Happen in Business and Life, White House
For more than two months, I’ve immersed myself in news coverage of the presidential primary races, especially the meteoric (and surprising) rise of billionaire Donald Trump. As a longtime “political junkie” – having begun my news career in the CBS News Washington bureau, I frequently visited the White House press room and had a chance to interview numerous senators and representatives – I find this process fascinating, and I’ve never previously seen a primary race quite like this one. (I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing!) If you’ve been watching the recent political coverage – although 14 months still remain prior to Election Day 2016 – what are your thoughts about all the news from the campaign trail?
A number of years ago, long before he ever declared his candidacy, I had the pleasure of talking with Donald Trump during the taping of a one-hour PBS special titled “How to Get Very, Very Rich” or something like that. I’ve been reflecting on that conversation and I think it offers a few useful insights into the way we connect with others and the way we each communicate our own unique message. (I’m not announcing that I intend to vote for Mr. Trump, by the way. I want to be very clear about that!)
In this newsletter, I’ll share those observations with you. (And I’ll do my best to do it concisely – as a number of people have let me know that my previous newsletters have been way too long!) As always, I also have a few recommendations for you. I’ll also tell you about an interview that I’ll be doing on Wednesday, which will also be available for listening on demand.
My Conversation with Donald Trump
As I mentioned, my conversation with the candidate who is currently the Republican front runner dates back a few years. During the time I spent working as a producer for “Good Morning America,” I had become friends with Robert Kiyosaki (author of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”) and his wife Kim. In turn, they introduced me to their friend Bill Zanker, founder of The Learning Annex and co-author along with Donald Trump of a the 2008 book, “Think Big: Make It Happen in Business and Life.”
When Bill Zanker was organizing the production of a one-hour PBS special featuring his friend Donald Trump, I was fortunate enough to be among the 100-person audience and even had the chance to ask the billionaire real estate developer a question.
As millions of people who have read “The Art of the Deal” — or heard his recent ideas from the campaign trail — know quite well, Mr. Trump said that he certainly understands the value of “thinking big.” He also said that in building his billion-dollar business empire he frequently does one thing that many other business people don’t do. He engages in “negative thinking,” which he said should not be confused with “defeatist thinking.” I asked Mr. Trump about this, and here’s what he told me.
Donald Trump said that despite the impression that many people have of him, he is actually very conservative in his approach to business. He said that he clearly visualizes “the worst that can happen” before he heads into any deal, and he makes sure that he can withstand that outcome if it comes to pass. “If you plan for the worst,” he said, “the good will always take care of itself.”
What We Can Learn From Donald Trump
Reflecting on that brief conversation, and having had a chance to see this controversial yet magnetic leader in action, here are a few of my observations. (And again, I’m not necessarily casting my vote for this provocative candidate!) Hopefully, you’ll find these ideas useful in the way that you connect with an audience and/or the news media.
Come in with a Game Plan. Donald Trump didn’t just show up at the television studio for that PBS special prepared to “wing it.” He had an objective in mind – providing useful information and a “pep talk,” as well as steering viewers to his online “Donald Trump University.”
Demonstrate a Genuine Desire to Connect with Others. Although some of the people who have met or heard Donald Trump on the campaign trail over the past couple of months (especially those who have been on the receiving end of some of his more “inflammatory” comments) may disagree with me, I got the impression that this is a man who – despite his wealth and the number of “yes-men” he surrounds himself with – genuinely wants to be liked by others, and shows an authentic interest in listening to their concerns — and he’s not doing it in typical “campaign-speak.”
Passion Is Powerful. In almost every one of the hundreds of television interviews I’ve produced over the years, I’ve made it a point to seek out the passion that my interview subject has for the book they’ve written, the business they’ve created, or the way they serve others. This quality of passion is what engages an audience, and inspires them to follow up on that relationship.
Assess Your Strengths, and Describe How You Can Serve Others. Although, in a number of interviews and press conferences, Donald Trump is beginning to reveal his weaknesses, he’s also not bashful (!) about touting his ability as a “deal-maker” and job-creator. Like Mr. Trump, in media interviews or speaking opportunities, you may need to bring up your “strong points” on your own, rather than in response to a question.
In my work with clients at Tom Martin Media, I enjoy coming up with strategies that maximize each of these areas, and lead to media coverage and new conversations with potential clients and customers.
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