Categotry Archives: Business

Just Another 4th of July Parade?

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My Uncle Clyde was everyone’s idea of what a favorite uncle should be – he certainly was my favorite!

One sundrenched summer day when I was a young boy my family stood on a downtown sidewalk watching the annual 4th of July parade my older brother Walt was proudly marching in. As my brother’s group marched by, my Uncle Clyde leaned over and whispered to me, “Look Joe, your brother is the only one marching in step!” Needless to say, my Uncle Clyde and I couldn’t stop laughing.

I’m pretty sure my uncle picked up that phrase while in the army during World War II, and I’ll never forget it. Even though I know my uncle was just kidding, I’ve wondered many times since then if I or someone else were the only ones “in step”.

There may not be an easy answer for knowing whether my Uncle Clyde’s observation holds true in every situation we may encounter, but what I think is important is that we seriously analyze the choices we have in front of us.  I think we should be secure enough to critically and honestly ask ourselves if we are a few steps behind rather than a few steps ahead.

Good Ole Uncle Clyde, hopefully his funny statement about marching in step can help us remember to make reasoned decisions that aren’t merely good for us, but good for everyone.

Personal Politics of Workplace Dysfunction

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Most of us have had jobs working in a dysfunctional environment. We either had a dysfunctional supervisor or we worked with dysfunctional people on our team. I know I have. Once I reached my personal “point of no return”, no amount of money would have kept me working there.

I have witnessed professionals I have coached who bravely tried to work with their dysfunctional supervisors. Eventually they left jobs and teams they liked because of disrespectful managers. Interestingly, these professionals found jobs they loved working in respectful cultures. The amount of stress they left behind when they moved on was well worth it.

Ultimately, we may not be able to influence our work surroundings but we all have control of our choice whether to stay or to leave.

The Mentor Myth

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Looking back on my business career, I wished that I would have had a mentor. How much more could I have accomplished by having someone to better guide me?

That statement is the myth of the mentor. Myth you say? It certainly sounds reasonable to me.

I think the myth comes from my thinking that if I had had a mentor, I would have actually listened to him or her.

As I think back, although I was definitely confident in myself, I can safely say I wasn’t secure. Isn’t confidence the same thing as being secure? I used to think so but what I did was use my confidence to mask my insecurity.

Confident people who are not secure don’t need help or advice, their plans are clearly better than anyone else’s. Confident and insecure people don’t need to listen to other ideas or solutions because their way is the best way. Confident yet insecure people look at others, shake their head, roll their eyes and think “they just don’t get it”.

Confident yet insecure people think they are the smartest person  in the room even when they are not. If their ideas are challenged they have a tendency to belittle the challenger instead of offering sound reasons for refuting the challenger’s ideas. They rarely answer direct questions and have learned to obfuscate by either not answering or answering a question with another question of their own.

If something goes awry, instead of taking responsibility for their actions, insecure people always look for someone or something to lay the blame on.

Confident secure people seek out advice and help. They are secure enough in themselves to want to search for better and more ingenious ways. Secure people are open to other reasoned ideas that may be better than their own. When they make a decision they own their decisions. They do not blame others if there is a problem and they do not have the need to always take credit when things go well. When asked a question they answer it in a direct reasoned manner they do not have a need to obfuscate.

To this day, asking personal and business friends for help is difficult for me. This is true even when I know that fundamentally, people like to help. I certainly know I enjoy strategizing with others about their personal or business plans and directions.

The moral of the story? Don’t make the mistake of thinking being confident is being secure.  This way, if you are blessed with having a good adviser, you may actually listen to and benefit from listening to them.

CEO Sets the Company Culture

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As one of the young men’s fashion buyers at The Bon Marche in Seattle, now Macy’s, it seemed like every other word that came out of our mouths was a swear word! At the time, our CEO at the Bon was a hard charging merchant and an equally hard charging drinker who loved a good party. All of us thought of him as a great role model in the world of retail. We had a great time but our moral compasses weren’t exactly on tract. That’s not to say we weren’t ethical because we were but in sense, we worked in a dysfunctional workplace. We all were young and thought this hard charging manner was the way we should act in business. Of course, this wasn’t true.

The moral of this story, regardless of what you may think, the CEO of a company always sets to tone for the culture of the company.

Hiring Mary

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During the mid 1990’s our small company, Ex Officio outdoor and adventure travel apparel, was growing rapidly. One of the challenges we had was hiring receptionists. The receptionist position was not only important as the face of our company but, we also used it as a place to discover employee’s for further promotion within the company.

 

Our receptionist, Kay, was being promoted from her receptionist position and her first duty was to find her potential replacement. As expected, Kay brought two terrific candidates for me to interview for a final decision. Both candidates were young and straight out of college.  The first was very presentable, clean cut, personable and seemed solid. The second candidate had bleached blond hair with dark roots, dressed like a designer might dress, seemed very independent and had an infectious fun personality. After questioning the candidates I found out that candidate #1 was indeed a solid person whom I thought would diligently carry out any task asked of her. The second candidate, Mary, as wild as she looked, had gone to Dartmouth (an Ivy League school with a bit of a party school reputation), had a degree in fashion and was captain of the Dartmouth women’s field hockey team.  After the interviews I immediately knew who I’d like on our team. When Kay came in to discuss her replacement, she assumed, for all the right reasons, I would like candidate #1. Although I did like #1, I picked Mary. The reasons? Mary, having a degree in apparel design, was not afraid to start at a receptionist job to work her way into our company and importantly, she was the captain of her field hockey team. What did being on the field hockey team at Dartmouth tell me about Mary? It told me Mary was a team player, which is necessary in business as well as in sports. By being accepted at Dartmouth, it told me Mary was intellectually smart. And, it told me she probably wasn’t conventionally smart in the tradition of a Harvard, Yale or Princeton. Personally, I like independent thinkers who challenge me and the people around them. Of course, on the downside, independent thinkers can sometimes cause workplace dysfunction. This led me to my final observation. Mary was not only was a team player, she was the captain of her team. Captains are elected by their teammates to lead the team; dysfunctional people rarely are elected to be captains. From this available information, I was able to make Mary my clear choice. Needless to say, Kay was surprised. After I shared my reasons with Kay, I wasn’t convinced she thought I was right. Possibly, she thought I was a bit crazy.

 

Sure enough, Mary eventually made the transition from being a college girl into being a talented young woman. Mary rose rapidly in our company and stayed for over 10 years. Eventually, after we sold our company, my former business partner hired Mary to work with him at his next venture. She’s still there today and every time I see Mary I am excited and happy to know her vibrancy is better than ever!

Understanding Your Customer’s or Client’s Unfulfilled Needs Before They Do

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As a 26 year-old young men’s buyer for the Bon Marche Department Store in Seattle (now Macy’s) during the late 1970’s, my primary departmental purchases were the disco styles that were popular at the time. I didn’t exactly like the styles; in fact I thought we were going through one of the worst fashion periods in history. But when these styles sold well, I thought they were fabulous. Although I personally didn’t like or wear the product I purchased, I certainly appreciated what my customer’s sought out.

After working at The Bon, I decided I wanted to go from the buy side to the sell side. I worked for a young men’s fashion wholesaler in Seattle as their VP of Merchandising. We primarily sold young men’s woven shirts to retailers and, just like at The Bon, I wasn’t a big fan of our product. But what I liked didn’t matter. What was important was that I understood what the stores we sold to wanted.

My next adventure was co-founding Ex Officio, adventure travel apparel. After recognizing a need in the fly fishing and outdoor industries, my business partner and I began making what turned out to be some of the most innovative fly fishing apparel and, outdoor and adventure travel apparel at that time. The catch: I had never fly-fished a day in my life! And my biz partner had only gone fly fishing a few times. How could we make such innovative product? I think it was because we had learned that the product we made wasn’t about what we liked, but what our customers were missing from their wardrobe. Ex Officio was one of the first companies to extensively use technical synthetic fabrics to make shirts and full fashioned pants. Personally, I liked and still like 100% cotton products. But, for the purpose that our customers were going to use our product for in outdoor and adventure travel settings, 100% cotton didn’t make sense.

Again, all those years of buying and selling “disco” fashions that I couldn’t stand, taught me a valuable lesson. Anyone can figure out what they personally like but the best companies figure out what their customers unfulfilled needs are before their customers recognize it themselves!