Tag Archives: Business

Leaders Are Not Retreaters


Annually, we would gather at a local restaurant for a holiday celebration that resembled a wake.  Over drinks, our boss would recount the terrible year coming to an end and how he believed our company would not survive another.  The current year ended in defeat and we faced the coming one with dread.

As director of marketing, I was challenged to keep our salespeople motivated.  A tough task with the fear we weren’t going to make it.  Our boss’s answer to falling sales was to retreat: lay people off and cut expenses. We were spiraling down the drain our ever-worsening level of service drove customers away.

Overwhelmed, our boss  resigned his position and took a job delivering phone books—not as much pay but a lot less stress. In contrast to our Ivy League educated former boss, his successor had only a high school education and little experience in our business.

His first day, he gathered the staff and announced we were going to upgrade our computer system.  A new computer system!  Why would you make a major investment with the company going out of business? Maybe, things were not as bad as we thought.

He presented a positive view of the future and employee morale soared, as did productivity and sales.

More important than a college diploma, he possessed a can-do attitude.  He provided hope, while setting an example of hard work and resistance to adversity.  He was a leader rather than a retreater and the company prospered under his guidance.

When the confederate army surged through a gap in the union line during the Civil War battle of Chickamauga, the northern troops and their officers panicked and ran.

General George Thomas wasn’t running.  He assembled a defense line that held long enough for the retreating army to make it to safety.  Thomas saved he Army of the Cumberland and became forever known as the “Rock of Chickamauga.”

George Thomas was a leader.  In the midst of panic he rallied his troops and held his ground.  In contrast, a retreater is prone to retreat.  At the first sign of trouble he or she gives up the fight, runs for safety. As the leader goes, so go the troops with them all hope of success.

In advance of a Japanese victory, general Douglas McArthur was ordered to flee the Philippine Islands. A pragmatist, he knew the battle was lost but he was determined to win the war.   When he arrived in Australia, he made a simple statement that rallied resistance and offered a vision for the future: “I shall return.”

Like McArthur, a leader is a realist.  He or she understands retreat is sometimes necessary; but when required, it is an organized withdrawal, giving way while maintaining morale and setting forth a vision of an ultimate success.

Even when facing failure, leaders continue to lead: presenting a positive view of the future; standing firm in the face of adversity; and offering hope.

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Memories Of Wine


The colors of the differing layers of its walls reflect the eons the Colorado River has flowed through the Grand Canyon.  Similarly, the wine corks Terri and I store in a five-gallon water bottle reflect our times together.  Viewing the layers of corks, you realize they reflect the ebb and flow of our prosperity: a layer from bottles of Robert Mondavi and Silver Oak wines on top of one consisting of those from Ernest and Julio.

In the course of one of the Ernest and Julio periods—a time of worry about money and jobs—I was celebrating the New Year with friends in Charleston, South Carolina.  One early morning, I noticed a newspaper headline announcing the CEO of a large corporation had passed away leaving a considerable fortune.  It struck me: I was spending time and energy worrying about money, when this titan of industry would have given everything he had for what I had acquired for no cost…my good health.

I don’t have millions of dollars but I possess wealth of which men of substantial means would be envious: good health, friends and a loving family.  I am blessed with the God given ability to work and surrounded by wonderful people and friends who inspire me by refusing to give in to adversity.  I have learned, I am the most productive, successful and satisfied when I grasp just how fortunate I am.

A long-time friend informed me that he is suffering from a degenerative disease.  Always the picture of health, he never let on to a problem that makes it difficult for him to stand and walk.  When the doctors told him in a relatively short time he would be confined to a wheel chair and eventually bedridden, he informed them they were wrong; he wasn’t going to let that happen and that he no longer needed them.  He never went back to those doctors and he’s still walking.  Listening to his story, I was taken back by the courage it took for him to face each day and shameful of how I let incidents of little importance drive me to distraction.

The market, oil spills, Greece, the economic trials we are facing—there is no profit in fretting about what you cannot control.  I try to cast negative thoughts out by focusing on what I can do.  To brood about “what I can’t do” is negative, debilitating and destructive.  Conversely, concentrating on “what I can do” is positive, invigorating and constructive.

Gazing upon different layers in the bottle of corks, I don’t dwell on the good and bad times.  Instead, I linger over memories of the wine: even the least of which was better than none at all.

Shave and a Haircut


Perkins Barbershop was located in narrow room, with barber chairs on one side and seats for waiting on the other. I have early memories of my dad—not my mother since she would never enter a pool hall, bar or barbershop—taking me for a haircut. Percy Perkins would seat me on a board placed across the arms of the chair; then wrap my neck with tissue, cover me with a sheet and commence to clipping. I still remember the smell of Clubman Pinaud Talc he would brush on my neck.

I was 16, a high school junior and I had a date with an 18 year old senior and I wanted everything to be perfect. Saturday morning after cleaning, washing and waxing my car, I headed to the barbershop.

To impress upon the him how important it was for me to look good, I told the barber about my big date. He stopped cutting and said, “If you want to impress a girl you need a professional shave. She’s not going to rub her smooth cheek against your rough beard.”

Beard. I had a beard? He was right: why wash the car, get a haircut and dress up only to find the girl didn’t want to mar her gentle skin with my manly beard. “Yeah, you’re right. Go ahead with the shave.”

He placed a hot towel on my face; strapped his razor; brushed on shaving cream and began scraping the whiskers. With my eyes closed, I was thinking about being grownup and dreaming about the coming evening when the comments began.

“Turn the razor over, you don’t need the sharp side for that beard.”

“Heck you don’t need a razor: a good rub with a wet towel and that peach fuzz will come right off.”

The men waiting for their haircuts had found a target and I was it. Too late to leave, all I could do was to silently take the razzing.

Years later my bookkeeper convinced me to go to a styling salon rather than a barbershop.

Embarrassed about going to a “beauty shop,” I made an appointment to coincide with the salon’s opening. A beautiful woman greeted me and inquired as to how I wanted my hair cut. I didn’t know how to answer: this wasn’t a question Percy Perkins asked. I thought, “If this good looking woman likes the result, it will have to be the best haircut ever;” so I responded,“The way you think best.”

After every few clips with her scissors, the stylist would put her face next to mine and as we both stared into the mirror, inquire if everything was all right. With her cheek close and intoxicated by sweet perfume, I realized Percy Perkins had lost my business.

Bedazzled, not paying attention to what she was saying, I readily agreed to her suggestion to make me even more handsome.

She tilted the chair back, placed my neck on the edge of a sink and gently washed my hair: her hands massaging my head as she leaned over me. I drifted away, dreamily happy, until I open my eyes, gazed into the mirror and realized I had a “roller” in my hair. Panic ensued: what if someone who knew me walked in—I would be the laughing stock of Ocala. Fortunately, no one who mattered saw me and I escaped with my reputation intact.

My father taught me that grooming matters in building relationships and success. Well groomed and neatly dressed, you convey a message that you care enough about others to want to make a good impression. In turn, you boost your self-esteem and raise your confidence.

Looking Good

If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good the pay’s good.” – “Neon” Deion Sanders

Technology Begets Technology


5’ 6”, shaped like a pear and possessing a bad comb-over; Mr. Lafferty was my father’s bookkeeper; and he and his adding machine fascinated me. His fingers would fly over the keys; after every entry, he would pull the manual handle, advancing the paper roll and begin the process again. He was a machine, not stopping until an entire column had been entered; then he would pull the adding machine tape close—he never tore the tape, he saved, reversed, re-rolled and used it again—check his numbers and start again. After at first refusing to do so, he would relent to my begging and let me tug the adding machine crank.

After graduating from college, I went to work for my father.  I had been on the job a few days when the general manager asked me to check an estimate. I began to check his math: multiplying, adding and totaling columns by hand. He laughed at my efforts and asked why I didn’t use the comptometer. At first, I had no idea what it was, but I soon learned how to operate the weird machine.

The size of an IBM Selectric typewriter—another ancient and rare piece of office equipment—our comptometer weighed about as much as a Volkswagen Beetle. Using the apparatus to multiply or divide, the internal mechanisms would clank and bang for what seemed to be an eternity before miraculously the results would appear. I thought the gadget to be a miracle of technology until we purchased our first electronic calculator.

Similar in appearance to a telephone, our first calculator had no printer and  a surge of electricity from a distant storm would destroy the display. When it first arrived,  I would enter a calculation and then check the answer by hand. For a mathematically challenged history major, the instantaneous calculation of a square root was a miracle. I was satisfied with the calculator and its successors until I discovered computers.

Drinking a beer with a guy I had played in a racquetball tournament, I asked what he did for a living. He responded, “I run a company that develops and sell small business accounting software.”

“Small business software: you had to be kidding! To run software, you have to own a computer and our company can’t afford a computer!”

Soon afterward he sold us our first computer.

The day they delivered our brand new TRS 80—Tandy Radio Shack—computer, I was as excited as if the governor had stopped by. We had purchased the top of the line: 64k of memory, a 13” black and white monitor and an expansion bay, with three 5 1/4” floppy drives. A machine so cutting edge that an industry trade magazine detailed a reporter to take pictures and gather information for a feature story. Our accounting was automated and with the advent of the first spreadsheet program, so was our estimating. I thought technology had peaked.

Now I own an Ipad. The size of a small notepad, it is a personal entertainment and business center. I can download and read books while listening to my favorite music; I am able to play a game, check email, write a letter or surf the Internet. Not requiring wires, external power or speakers: a miraculous advance in technology.

As I download applications to my Ipad, I sometimes think about Mr. Laferty: the advances in technology and how those advance have changed our lives.

25 years ago, if today’s technology had been available I might still be in the construction business. What were once onerous tasks, such as producing shop drawings, now take only minutes. Communications with customers, employees and vendors would be seamless and immediate; in many ways business is easier now: but, are things really better? Perhaps and perhaps not.

Always in touch, there’s a tendency towards making precipitous rather than well-considered decisions? The urgency of instant connectivity can result in reduced productivity, mistakes and damaged relationships. Technology also affects personal relationships.

Tablet computers, smart phones, video games allow for self-sufficient entertainment: we don’t need others to distract us from boredom. Yet, social interaction and boredom are important to our well-being: if our minds are always occupied, there is little time for creativity and the lack of interaction can lead to an acceptance of isolation from others.

It’s been an amazing journey with technology: from watching a comptometer chugging away to sitting on my back porch surfing the web. Technology begets technology; so, advancements are going to continue; I cannot imagine what tomorrow will bring. I do know that we must not become so enslaved to tools that we lose touch with each other.

 Quote

As industrial technology advances and enlarges, and in the process assumes greater social, economic, and political force, it carries people away from where they belong by history, culture, deeds, association and affection.” – Wendell Berry

I Was Part of the Problem


With a prayer for a check in the mail on Saturday, on Friday I would hand out paychecks.

In commercial construction, to ensure subcontractors finish their work, general contractors typically retain 10% of monies due until the job is complete. That’s where our cash was, retained until the cows came in or until our customers no longer needed the money to finance their operations.

Daily, my blood pressure would rise as I passed a manufacturing plant for which we had not been paid for our work.  Fed up, I asked my attorney to notify the contractor, owner, architect and anyone else he thought of, that we were going to file suit to collect; the threat got everyone’s attention and the owner called for a meeting.

We met in the plant’s conference room. The owner’s representative opened the meeting by asking the contractor why we hadn’t been paid. He answered, “They haven’t repaired the damaged fascia metal.”  My roofing department manager replied, “What damage?” The contractor stood, puffed out his chest and exclaimed, “If you had listened you would know!”  I grabbed the department manager as he lunged across the table, trying to grab the man by the throat.

When calm returned, the owner suggested we view the damaged fascia. With the contractor and my manager safely separated by the owner, architect and myself—we trooped to the far side of the building.

The contractor stopped and pointed to the fascia some 20 feet above the ground and said “There.” We stared until the owner’s representative said, “Where?”

“There, where I’m pointing!”

“I don’t see anything.”

“Wait until the sun is a little further up; then you can see it.”

“My goodness, you mean you’ve been holding $50,000 of this man’s money on a defect you can only see when the sun is a particular place in the heavens!”

He turned to me and said, “Mr. Tucker you’ll have a check by tomorrow afternoon.”

Soon after I made the determination to sell the company.

I recognized that I was part of our collection problem. I was a square peg in a round hole: I had tried to do the best I could; spent a lot sleepless night and kept long hours but I wasn’t detail oriented or tough enough to survive in the construction industry.

To assure happiness and success, it is important to recognize, admit and accept your aptitudes and talents; to know and focus on what you do well.

 Ability

Knowing what you can not do is more important than knowing what you can do.” – Lucille Ball

Fear Can Drive Success


Every Halloween one of my favorite videos is shown on America’s Favorite Videos. Dressed as a scarecrow, a man sits on his front porch, in a rocking chair next to a box containing trick or treat candy. When someone reached for the candy, the costumed man jumped to his feet scaring the unsuspecting trick-or-treater. The joke worked until a large man reacted by delivering a punch knocking the scarecrow to the floor.

The “Fight or Flight” syndrome describes how someone reacts when they are unexpectedly frightened.

Taking a walk, my wife Terri and I came across a neighbor’s yard sale. The man hosting the sale told Terri he had a special memento she might be interested in. She watched as he slowly opened a box; suddenly, without warning a fake squirrel sprung out. I grabbed her arm as she was starting to swing at the guy’s nose. “Fight or Flight,” Terri’s instinct when startled is to fight.

In a magazine survey, respondents were asked which golf shot they feared most. I expected a difficult stroke to be the number one answer: out of a sand trap; over water or an attempt out of deep rough. Surprisingly, the top answer was “The first shot off of the number 1 tee.”  The fear of failing in front of  people waiting to tee off gave rise the response.

The fear of failing in front of others is responsible for one of people’s greatest terrors, the fear of public speaking. The trepidation engendered from speaking in public is not limited to addressing a large audience; it prevents people from expressing their opinions in small meetings. I have  heard people utter, “I wanted to say something but I was afraid someone would find my opinion to be stupid.”

There are people who seek out situations that others dread. They thrive on  success: a place kicker called upon to kick the winning field goal with only seconds left in the game; a political candidate addressing an audience of thousands of people; a fireman rushing into a burning building. 

I am not convinced you ever truly overcome a deep-seated dread of something; I do believe you can learn to harness and use it to drive success. When you recognize and accept a fear you can take actions overcome it: golf lessons, Toastmasters and the list goes on.  Whatever you do will pay off in ways far beyond overcoming your fear.

Fear

It is not a matter of being fearless. The fear is sometimes constant, but it’s about moving forward regardless of the fear. Courage means feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” -Gillian Anderson

Tighter Than Bark On A Birch Tree


“Tighter than bark on a birch tree;’ ‘He can squeeze a nickel so hard the buffalo screams;’ ‘He has short arms and long pockets” All of the preceding could be applied to the owner of the pizza restaurant where I worked. Hovering over a pizza, he would scowl if there was one extra piece of pepperoni; he limited salad dressing to a tablespoon and we poured 11 not 12 ounce draft beers.

Knowing how tight he was, I couldn’t keep quiet when he told me to put extra ingredients on a customer’s pie. “Mr. Styles, are you sure you want me to ‘load’ this pizza?”

He surprised me with his answer: “Yes. He’s a regular customer, spends a lot of money and I want to make sure he keeps coming back.”

Years ago, Terri and I regularly frequented a Winter Park seafood restaurant. They served good food and Freddy our waiter always took good care of us: on a crowded night, even without a reservation, we would be seated; occasionally a free appetizer or glass of wine would appear and he always knew when there was a special occasion. In Winter Park, there were numerous restaurant choices but we always returned to where we were welcomed.

I’m a creature of habit, on Mondays I eat at a local Wendys and Thursday is “taco day” at Taco Bell. Only once has the Wendy’s manager spoken to me and then to explain that they were charging me more than the listed price because the listed price was wrong. The Taco Bell manager treats me like I’m the franchise owner: he greets me with inquiries about my health; from time to time there is an extra taco on my plate and he checks to make sure everything is alright. The quality of the food and the service at the Wendy’s restaurant is better, however, I prefer the taco place.

People are confronted with a variety of options when it comes to almost everything: restaurants, stores, entertainment and relationships. With numerous choices, deciding what to spend money on is a challenge. Product, service and price are the primary drivers of the decision, also playing a part are intangible elements, such as demonstrating appreciation.

Gratitude is also important in personal relationships.

Tired, reading a novel and beginning to fall asleep, I only grunted in response to Terri’s account of dealing with a problem. Sensing her silence, I looked and found her staring at me with a hurt expression. She had spent her lunch hour tending to our predicament and my appreciation was an annoyed grunt. My response had hurt her feelings and dampened her excitement over a task well done.

Business people readily recognize that relationships are built upon a foundation of honesty, trust and service. However, they often fail to acknowledge appreciation as an additional important element. Gratefulness demonstrates a selfless willingness to recognize other people’s efforts and achievements.

In our business as well as personal lives, a generosity of spirit often determines the depth of our connection with others.

Appreciation

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” – William James