Career Lessons

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The Face Of The Company


When I was the President or Chief Executive, I was often told that I served as a good external “face of the company.” Although I was flattered, I have always felt that the true face of the company is the impression left from the “first human interaction” an outsider has with the company. Therefore, in my opinion, the most important faces of the company are the receptionists, secretaries, administrative assistants and executive assistants. And rather than getting less important in the digital age, the impression given by these people becomes more important. Let me expound.

As I watch the digital revolution solve communications gaps of the past—speed, mobility, compactness, software commonality, geography—I also see more people skipping the telephone, personal visit or handwritten note, and opting to rely on text and email for communication. How many handwritten thank you notes have you received from vendors, versus emails? Yet hand writing a personal note is fast, easy, and much, much more impactful.

In this digital era, companies have de-emphasized the role of the company administrative staff. In fact, there is a trend to skip it altogether, relying instead on digital voicemail directories. You know the drill: “If you know the name of the person, push ‘1’ for a company directory…”

I have also talked to people in the hallways and watched as ringing phones go un-answered because it was inconvenient for the receiver to be bothered at that moment. As a result, many times I have played phone tag with people in the voicemail loop. Each time, I get angry that I have to acquiesce to their convenience and not mine. I may be old fashioned, but I think this is a disaster for a company’s personal culture, especially […]

By |May 1st, 2016|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Outside The Spin Room


Being raised by a West Point colonel father; there was no shortage of preaching about right and wrong. The rules (and resulting judgment) about stealing, lying and cheating were absolutes. But it was not until I attended West Point that the shades of grey relative to integrity were more highly defined.

West Point is famous for the strictness and the no-exceptions severity of its honor code. You are immediately dismissed if you are dishonest, or even deceitfully misleading. But, in addition, you are not allowed to tolerate others that violate the code. If you turn your head to others’ actions you also violate the honor code, even if you had no part in the deceit. To have 18- to 22-year-olds dismissed publicly by an honor code violation is traumatic and highly feared by all. It teaches you the different ‘shades of grey’ in interpreting integrity.

When I joined the business world, frankly, it was a struggle as I watched seniors interpret their individual honor code in what fell into the ‘shades of grey’ category. And as I rose to become a manager of others, I was consistently given problems that were too late to fix at that particular time, but I needed to make sure those same problems wouldn’t be repeated in the future. I found myself obsessing on if the problem represented incompetency and inexperience or was caused by malicious non-reporting at an earlier stage. Making mistakes is a part of the learning curve of a profession, but covering them up felt more like a character flaw that could likely reoccur.

I was always willing to invest in teaching subordinates who were honest and forthright, but lack of transparency and intentional deceit was not fixable in my […]

By |April 1st, 2016|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Winning With Razor Blades


At Harvard Business School, I learned several simple broad strategy theories, which have always stuck with me and set my “strategic sails.’” One of these theories was: “the profit margin rapidly increases with identical repetitious products, while the risk of failure dramatically decreases.”

I met with a venture capitalist, who described his acquisition strategy as buying a set of “razor blade” businesses. “Razor blade” strategy specifically refers to the business concept that, if a company like Gillette sells a new Fusion razor with a proprietary design for the blade head, they are actually selling a multi-year annuity of razor blade replacements. These proprietary razor blade heads are mass-produced for several pennies and yet sold for close to $1 per blade, yielding an enormous profit that lasts as long as the person uses the razor. In fact, so much profit is generated in the annuity that it pays to spend enormous amounts on advertising in order to get people to switch to the newest razor. The razor itself can even be thought of as a lost leader.

Of course, this concept is well documented in pharmaceuticals, CDs, water purity cartridges, apparel, automotive parts, software products, iPod and tablet apps, etc. The real profit is not made in the original capital cost of the first item, but rather the repeat sale of a proven solution. Additionally, the greater the volume, the higher the margin goes up. Therefore, the profit can be exponential for repeatables.  Repeatable product companies carry the highest profit margins in all industry sectors.

Many service company firms think very differently. They believe in customization and near “perfect fitted” solutions. They traditionally make profit from the margin in the labor rate and are not motivated to standard products. […]

By |March 3rd, 2016|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Instincts Versus More Data


As you age, you start to trust your instincts because you have an ever-increasing personal experience record on knowing that they are pretty accurate. In fact, in post-retirement interviews with CEOs, their number one regret is that they did not trust their instincts and act fast enough.  They say this not because history didn’t prove their eventual actions right, but because their instincts told them to take the action long before they did, and they wasted too much time.

Instincts are not something you are born with. They are developed through your career by observation of others and your own record with decision-making, both good and bad. Each event that requires a decision that you make is recorded and stored in a mental accumulative database. Over time, your instincts get increasingly accurate to reality; but rarely do leaders know when to trust them fully.

When our instincts tell us one thing, we immediately check with our past knowledge “data banks” to see if there is compelling evidence to give us confidence in that instinct. Instinct is nearly immediate. It is a ‘gut-feel’ well before the facts are revealed. When we have a strong instinct, we go on a journey to convince ourselves to take action.

Since this a ‘shade of grey’ issue, I have found it difficult in giving people I mentor guidance about when to trust their instincts and act. The truth is, it is different for all people. Individually, people have different rates of learning and requirements to make decisions on which instincts are verified. But I think the issue is so important for a leader, I thought I would take the risk of offering some guidance, delineated by age group.

Under age 30: Discover your instincts: […]

By |February 1st, 2016|Career Lessons|0 Comments

When Optimism Is Delusional


I’ve never been sure if optimism is caused by nature or nurture. After observing my children, and talking to other parents, I am inclined to believe optimism is genetic. Many people consider this dichotomy to be either a “half full or half empty” view of the world.

I am blessed with the “half-full gene,” and have found that many other accomplished people tend to have it, too; however, it is not a universal truth. I have also known successful “half-empty gene” leaders, as long as they understand their disposition, and surround themselves with teammates who are upbeat. They succeed by creating balance and democratic decision input.

Part of the reason I believe that optimists are often more successful than the “half-empty” personality, is that they can more easily attract quality talent and heighten morale—people want to work with someone who has confidence in success. Employees seek to feel good, and the subsequent self-confidence from positive leadership increases the odds of them fulfilling their personal goals.

Leaders who view things as “half-empty” tend to avoid taking risks, which creates insecurity. They need much more data and facts to be convinced of a situation, which slows the entire team. Further, employees find it hard to get excited about working for a pessimist, as it constantly puts them on the defensive.

Regardless of disposition, bad things happen to everyone at some point or another. I can still clearly recall the most emotionally devastating event in my career:

When I was operating a small unit, a key person left without warning, to join a competitor. To me, it was a very loud statement that they would rather trust their career in a group of strangers rather than the people they had worked with for […]

By |January 4th, 2016|Career Lessons|0 Comments

Are Staff Leaders Strategic Assets?


While I typically focus my articles toward high-ranking profit and loss leaders such as CEOs and line managers, I’d like to take the opportunity to discuss Level 1 leaders for staff departments, including: accounting, human resources, IT support, corporate communications, and legal. Oftentimes, top executives struggle with determining these individuals’ roles and evaluating their contribution, as Level 1 staff members are often seen as costly necessities to the rank and file employees, and have little impact on the company. They can be seen as bureaucrats or policy gatekeepers living off the revenue execution talent of others, and are often known to make business difficult.

Level 1 staff executives are paid sizable salaries and often benefit from large bonuses immune from enterprise performance. They can be seen to have little direct effect on profit, and are not held accountable except by subjective opinion relative to “likeability,” or their relationship with the CEO. Because they lack direct ownership for numerical KPIs, mediocre functional staff chiefs can skate for years without much quantitative accountability. Many are perceived to contribute only as process advisors when a crisis occurs for the line officers and client servers.

In numerous companies, employees have a right in evaluating the functional staff leadership as ‘maintenance personnel,’ in that they do not have the long-term competitive impact to justify their costs. This leadership can have considerable authority, but little quantitative accountability. If their only role is proven to be only functional transactions, the positions would be cheaper being outsourced or even automated.

Despite this, Level 1 functional staff can be the most valuable business leaders in the organization, if they are talented and their position is clearly defined and regulated.

I believe the most successful chief functional leaders […]

By |November 1st, 2015|Career Lessons|2 Comments