Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

The Real Role of a Leader

February 1, 2013 1 comment

A humorous look at the role of a leader in any organization.  If you have ever been a leader, I’m sure you can relate to this quote from an anonymous author.

As nearly everyone knows, a leader has practically nothing to do except to decide what is to be done; tell somebody to do it; listen to reasons why it should not be done or why it should be done in a different way; follow up to see if the thing has been done; discover that it has not; inquire why; listen to excuses from the person who should have done it; follow up again to see if the thing has been done, only to discover that it has been done incorrectly; point out how it should have been done; conclude that as long as it has been done, it may as well be left where it is; wonder if it is not time to get rid of a person who cannot do a thing right; reflect that the person probably has a spouse and a large family, and any successor would be just as bad and maybe worse; consider how much simpler and better matters would be now if he had done it himself in the first place; reflect sadly that he could have done it right in twenty minutes, and, as things turned out, he has had to spend two days to find out why it has taken three weeks for somebody else to do it wrong.

Overcoming Personal Battles

December 24, 2012 Leave a comment


Did you know that Lord Nelson, England’s famous naval hero, suffered from seasickness his entire life.

It’s true.

In a letter recently found in the Camden family archives, Nelson expresses sympathy for the 2nd Earl of Camden‘s 16-year-old nephew by admitting to his own personal weakness.

“I am ill every time it blows hard and nothing but my enthusiastic love for the profession keeps me one hour at sea.”

(See YouTube video: Lord Nelson Seasickness Letter in Tunbridge Wells.)

How could the man who destroyed Napoleon’s fleet lead men into battle when he himself was fighting a battle within himself? He did so by not only learning to live with his weakness – he learned to conquer it. And in so doing, he went on to become England’s greatest Naval hero.

Most of us have situations in our own lives that challenge us on a day to day basis. These may be physical or they may be psychological, but rest assured, everyone who has ever tried to accomplish anything in life has had to overcome their own personal seasickness.

Oftentimes it is a private war; carried on quietly within our own lives. But unlike heroes like Nelson, no one will celebrate our victories, no one will recognize our successes, and no one will pin a medal to our chest for winning. But even without the fanfare from others, nothing can dim the quiet satisfaction of knowing in our own hearts that we did not give up!

Cherish the People

October 13, 2012 1 comment

I recently spent some time going through old business cards. Netscape, Sun Microsystems, Trusted Information Systems… Companies that were once giants in their industries – now gone. Their technologies no longer discussed except in circles of old folks (like me) reminiscing years gone by. The act of discarding these cards felt somehow like I was closing the final chapter of their very existence.

In a world where LinkedIn has become the electronic business card used by most people, I still felt compelled to hang on to these artifacts. Not for the contact information (that was long out of date), but for the memories that each card had left behind. Each person that I did business with or simply met at a conference has influenced me in some way. Whether it was a simple nugget of information provided by an acquaintance or an introductory meeting with someone that I have built a relationship with throughout the years, those cards represent people that have made me who I am today. For some odd reason I felt like I was throwing away a piece of them and wondered how LinkedIn could possibly replace the paper I held in my hand. Even so, it was time to move on and I continued with my quest.

Before committing each card to the trash, I took a moment to reflect back on those relationships. Some of the names were no longer familiar to me. Notes quickly scribbled on the backs of cards no longer made sense. I was reminded of people I had forgotten and wondered where they were today (I had better look them up on LinkedIn). But as I tossed the last card into the trash, one thing became abundantly clear. Companies and technologies come and go, but people stay a part of you forever.

Discard the cards, but hang on to (and cherish) the people.

How Well Do Your Vendors Really Know You?

May 21, 2012 1 comment

How well do our vendors know us?  I mean, how well do they really know us?  And how much do they care?

They collect countless data points about us through direct or indirect activity.  They spend a lot of money buying lists containing all sorts of information about “people like us”, but what are they actually doing with all that information?  Are they using it to create products geared towards our needs?  Are they using it to make our shopping experience any better? Are they using it to make us feel special?

Are they even using it at all?

Based on one experience, It seems like some companies (some big name companies) just aren’t getting it.

Here’s my story…

You might consider me a coffee fanatic – the stronger and the hotter the better.  I will wake up first thing in the morning and make a 12 cup pot of Cuban  coffee (one of my favorites) with the intention of drinking every last drop.  But, as with the best laid schemes of mice and men, I typically throw some of that coffee away (I know, sacrilegious).  So, when a few years back vendors started producing one cup coffee makers with the pods, I figured what the heck, it is still cheaper and easier than Starbucks.  So I figured I would make the switch; but which one?

I researched, I asked friends, I tested, I priced, I researched some more and I ended up with a Tassimo brewer from Bosch (a division of Kraft Foods).  This coffee maker was reasonably priced and it did so much more than the competition. Expresso, cappuccino, latte, hot chocolate, tea – I could make it all with this little gem.  I just knew I had made the best choice and my coffee wasting days were behind me.  I was so satisfied with the product that I became the Tassimo poster child.  I registered my system on the Tassimo Web site and gave Bosch my personal information (something I rarely do).  I told all my K-Cupping friends about my state of the art coffee making mecca.  I celebrated the Tassimo robot commercials on TV.  Heck, I became a one man Tassimo advertisement.  You could consider me the epitome of a loyal Tassimo customer.

Unfortunately, over the past year or so I found that Tassimo coffees are getting harder and harder to find in retail outlets.  Apparently Keurig made better agreements with coffee manufacturers like Starbucks than Kraft did and the availability of my dream coffee started waning.  But I was not to be deterred, Tassimo had a Web site, right?  So, I started ordering my coffee direct.  This satisfied my need for awhile, at least until the choices became fewer and everything started being put on back order (especially my wife’s favorite, caramel macchiato).  But I stuck with them – still believing in my choice of brewers.

I mention this because I have put more into my Tassimo relationship than Bosch has.  So, when I received the following email from Bosch telling me that they appreciated my business and were inviting me to a “Customer Appreciation Event”, I felt that they finally started recognizing my investment.

Based on the email, I could save $10, $15 or $25 – depending on how much additional loyalty I was willing to demonstrate .  Apparently “loyalty” is measured by the number of dollars I am willing to spend now, not what I have already spent in the past. Nor is it measured by the fact that I have continued to stick with them even though half the time the items I want are on back order or that I continue to shop with them even though their merchandise has mysteriously disappeared from retail shelves.  I didn’t respond right away, but the email did make me feel somewhat “special”.

Three days later I received an email with the subject of:


LAST DAY to Shop and Save $10, $15 or $25


Apparently Bosch appreciated me, but only during the three days of the sales event, itself.  Is that appreciation?  Hardly.

But, being the price conscious person that I am, I bit. I went to the web site and put in my order for over $100 dollars of merchandise to get the maximum discount (of which $75 worth of product was back ordered).  Sigh….

Did Bosch consult their records of my buying history to help me make my purchase?  Did they steer me towards those products that I have faithfully purchased in the past?  Did they give me a whole-hearted apology for my products being on back order (for the umpteenth-millionth time)?  Did they in any way make me feel “appreciated” in this transaction?  Hardly.  In fact, the whole experience has had the opposite effect.  Instead of feeling appreciated, I feel like I was being used to help Bosch reach a sales quota.

Unfortunately, the sales process has become a contentious relationship between the customer and the vendor.  Customers are wary of being taken advantage of by vendors who are only out to sell (caveat emptor, right?).  They feel that vendors are only out to take advantage of them, so they will do whatever they can to take advantage of the situation first.  Unfortunately vendors who actually do care about their customers are all too often lumped into the same category as predatory ones (have you been to a used car lot lately).

The trust between the customer and the vendor is all but gone.

The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t have to be that way.  Customers can be fiercely loyal to brands (just ask Apple, Levis, or Budweiser) and all that it takes is for the vendor to show an ounce of loyalty back.  It doesn’t take much, just enough to make customers feel like they are valued.  Just enough to make them feel like they have a say in the sales conversation, just enough to make them feel like they are truly ‘special’.

Is that too much to ask for?

A word of advice to vendors, ‘they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’.

How much do you really care about us?

The Biggest Expense to Your Company

November 25, 2011 Leave a comment

While reading the book, I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59, I stumbled on a question that Sergey Brin asked of his marketing folks. It really got me to think about how we look at corporate costs.

Think for a second, what is the biggest expense that a company can incur? Is it facilities cost, equipment leases, or big-ticket purchases? Is it health care, taxes, or employee salaries. It must be salaries and benefits, right? That is what has been preached to me from well-meaning CFOs.

Wrong! The single largest expense a company can incur is “opportunity cost” and it can literally make or break a company.

(Sorry, I set you up.)

Opportunity cost can be defined as the ‘profit foregone by selecting one alternative over another. It is the net return that could be realized if a resource were put to its next best use. It is “what we give up” from “the road not taken.”‘

It is like I try to teach my kids, every day you make decisions to do (or not do) something. When you decide to do one thing, you are consciously (or subconsciously) deciding NOT to do something else. It is the consequences of those decisions that directly impact opportunity cost. In the case of companies, every action taken (or not taken) has an affect on the bottom line.

It is the phone call that is not made.

It is the product that is not shipped.

It is the project that is not completed.

It is the process that is not managed.

It is the follow-up that is not performed.

It is the questions that were not asked.

All of these have a direct impact on business either immediately or down the road – but they definitely have an impact.

Thinking in terms of opportunity costs takes a different mindset; one that is not necessarily natural to most people. But considering it in our daily actions can make all the difference in the success or failure of a company.

OK, so as I wrote this, I was also preaching to myself, but I couldn’t miss the “opportunity” to put it out there.