Book: The Hour that Matters Most

November 2nd, 2011

We live in a “Dine and Dash” world. Eating has been reduced to a task that is performed on the run with the help of drive-thru windows. “Grab a bite” is part of the common vernacular.

This has had a profound effect on the family. Those Sunday dinners at Grandma’s house have faded into the fabric of our collective memories. We are too antsy, too fidgety. Too anxious to get back to the latest video game, chat room, sporting event, reality TV show. Sadly, this pertains to the parents as much as their children.

“The Surprising Power of the Family Meal” is the tagline of this easily digested book by Les & Leslie Parrott, Stephanie Allen, and Tina Kuna. Within the sanctuary of the home, they suggest creating the safest place on earth, siting a study that revealed the six qualities of thriving families: commitment, appreciation and affection, positive communication, time together, spiritual well-being, and the ability to cope with stress and crises.

A regular family meal is a forum to listen to the kids, cultivate deeper values, instill gentle manners, enjoy more laughter, and count our blessings. It is also a chance to bond during the preparation of the meal. The authors also suggest how to curb conflict at the table and beyond. They caution against turning the kitchen into a food court while reminding us to turn off the TV during the meal.

“The Hour that Matters Most” is filled with menu ideas, cooking methods, and parental advice—all devised to keep it fresh and with purpose. They mention how to broaden values by inviting guests: grandparents, teachers, clergy, neighbors, people from other countries.

Make the family meal a part of your routine. You and your family will look forward to it for years to come.

Book: Tribal Leadership

June 30th, 2011

Think of your job. Now, pick one of the following: “Life sucks”; “My life sucks”; “I’m great”; “We’re great”; or, “Life is great”.

Next, read Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright. The authors focused their ten-year research on the language we use at work and the relationships we have there. Those five phrases at the start of this article are the basis for the five tribal stages they developed to summarize business cultures.

As the stages change, collaboration, communication, and structure change. A culture of dyadic (“two-person”) relationships is reflective of companies in Stage Three; while a triad (“value-based”) relationship firm will be in Stage Four. Stage Three is the “I’m great(and you’re not)” culture; and Stage Four is “We’re great”. There is a big, big difference between I and we.

This is not your father’s business book. It is not filled with numbers and lists and graphs and bullet points. No quants here! Instead, the authors dissect what we say at work and how we behave(That is more important than most of us want to admit). They help us understand why our company is where it is culturally; and they give us tools to graduate to higher stages.

Tribal Leadership will alter your perception of yourself and your company. You will discover that it is not something you can fix with a coat of paint or moving into a nice shiny new building. It is much deeper than that.

It is about core values, having a noble cause, and experiencing a tribal leadership epiphany.

I suggest you pick up the paperback version of Tribal Leadership. The Afterword, all of six pages, is a powerful look-back by the authors after their hard cover version was published.

Note: a copy of Tribal Leadership was sent to me to write this piece.

The Right Way to Launch a Startup: Equipois

June 20th, 2011

Two weeks ago I went to an Open House for a small manufacturing startup in Los Angeles, Equipois. The company provides ergonomic solutions for manufacturing, military, and medical environments. Their zeroG® arm permits an operator to use their tool weightlessly, reducing fatigue and injury. The recently released X-ar exoskeleton arm is designed to assist with micro-manufacturing workers, people with disabled arms, and doctors—who are in hours of delicate surgery.

Equipois’ CEO, Eric Golden, brought in Garrett Brown, the inventor of the movie industry’s Steadicam™, to transfer his invention into other manufacturing applications. Smart Move # 1: find an existing invention and transform it. Extra points to partner with the inventor.

The Equipois Open House was professionally coordinated. The parking lot was attended and tastefully adorned with colorful balloons and signs, as were the offices and plant. Morning refreshments were served while guests arrived. Demo stations were set up to display the products in a simulated work setting. Smart Move # 2: make your guests feel welcome; and let them touch your products.

This was more than an Open House. One of the guest speakers was the Mayor of Los Angeles, Anthony Villaraigosa; another was the area’s councilmember. They both thanked Equipois for staying in Los Angeles, rather than move to another city. Smart Move #3: this meant local press coverage, i.e. good PR. It also showed a healthy relationship with the local politicians.

Boeing was Equipois’ first paying customer. Boeing’s Senior Manager of Ergonomics, Missy Brost, was a featured speaker. Smart Move # 4: have your first dollar of revenue customer tell the world how they met and how well the products are helping their business.

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, CEO of Nantworks and investor in Equipois, also spoke. Smart Move #5: Dr. Soon-Shiong is very embedded in the medical and technology communities, having sold two companies that has catapulted him onto the short list of the globe’s wealthiest. He is a proven visionary who will mentor Equipois to heights well beyond their own dreams and expectations.

Some Open House. Southern California take note. This is the blueprint to success.

Book: The Benevolent Dictator by Michael Feuer

June 4th, 2011

Rarely does a CEO grant access inside his/her mind, sharing perceptions, insights, styles, and business practices. Michael Feuer, founder and former CEO of OfficeMax, opens the floodgates of how he took OfficeMax from a three-store startup in Cleveland to a one thousand store enterprise with five billion dollars in annual revenue.

The Benevolent Dictator (“TBD”) is defined as the entrepreneur, manager, or CEO who puts everyone ahead of himself/herself, but is the one who makes the important decisions and knows when to say stop.

TBD has four segments: 1. Start-up; 2. Build out and put the idea to the test; 3. Constant reinvention; and, 4. The Payday. These themes not only track the progression of fifteen years of OfficeMax; they also include Mr. Feuer’s latest venture, Max-Wellness. However, the forty “lessons”, i.e. chapters, are topical, permitting the reader to easily search for a particular subject. Have a great idea for a business? Take a look at Lesson # 10: Treat an Idea like Clay. You will find several golden nuggets of business wisdom there.

I found Mr. Feuer’s understanding of employees’ and customers’ psychological actions and characteristics fascinating. His knowledge is beyond textbook, gathered from years of first-hand observation and analysis. This is business human behavior on steroids.

While Mr. Feuer’s business background is retail, TBD is applicable to any type of business, even non-profits. It is a primer for current and aspiring CEO’s and Entrepreneurs. It should also be a required reading for business graduate students. The contents apply to marketing, human relations in organizations, leadership, and strategy–among others.

Mr. Feuer’s last name is the German word for “Fire”. After reading The Benevolent Dictator, a fire will be lit under you.

Now GOYA(Lesson #6)!

Book: Social Nation by Barry Libert

December 16th, 2010

Who likes your business? Who loves your business? Do you know who they are? Do you know why they like/love you?

“Social Nation: How to harness the power of Social Media to attract customers, motivate employees, and grow your business” by Barry Libert opens the door wide on this topic. First, consider Social Media sites, i.e. Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, as more than a sounding board for you and your family and friends. Establish a baseline of your social media strengths by taking the brief Social Quotient assessment. This will give you your top three Social Quotient traits (out of eight). [Suggestion: have your senior management take the assessment and drop them into a matrix.]

Then go to work, utilizing the Seven Principles for Building Your Social Nation. Libert details how to get started and provides a list of ten pitfalls to avoid.

Sound easy? It depends on who is running the show. Web-based companies ala Zappos were early to the party, while dinosaurs like GM have recently gotten into the act. Read how Ducati increased sales by creating a Nation of clubs and dealers—and dumping their traditional advertising and marketing.

Libert wisely advises how to integrate your employees into a Social Nation context. He also points out how to determine your Social Nation Equilibrium (the balance between fans and followers).

Add “Social Nation” to your gotta-read business book list. As soon as you can.

MBA Practice

November 30th, 2010

Attorneys “practice” law. Accountants practice accounting. Both have continuing education requirements to maintain a license. So does the insurance industry. Come to think of it, many professions have ongoing education programs to keep their constituents current.

What about the MBA space? You can take post-graduate classes, pick up an Executive MBA, subscribe to the Harvard Business Review, attend weekend MBA retreats—on and on. In short, you’re on your own.

At Pepperdine’s Graziadio MBA program group projects were emphasized. How about emulating this approach? Pick a topic, divide the assignments, and put together a paper and a presentation. Maybe a podcast. Or write a blog.

Or each pick a recent business book and write a book report. With five people once a month you will have distilled and reviewed sixty books in a year.

Don’t forget case studies.

How are you staying current with your MBA Practice?

Why Not Now?

November 9th, 2010

While the year end is approaching and budgets are cast for the New Year, now is time to think about jumpstarting your 2011 initiatives. Case in point, two years ago a high level sales person was identified and vetted in December—for an end of Q1 (first quarter) start date. “Why not now?” I asked. “It will take ninety days for the new hire to get up to speed; by the end of Q1, the sales person will be up and running.” The additional expenses now will be paid back quicker, given the incremental revenue stream generated. The sales person was hired right away, and the revenue streams did occur sooner than anticipated.

Ask yourself the same question: Why not now? Sometimes the early decision will create a positive buzz within your company—and outside of your company. You are sending a positive message that you expect more business to transact by your actions. And your return on investment will naturally happen faster than anticipated.

Maybe it’s a new piece of equipment (like a phone system), or a website upgrade, or new software. What planned purchase, new hire, property expansion, or acquisition will send a message that you are in it to win it?

Why not now?

Speed = Business

October 12th, 2010

Speed. That’s not a word that is regularly used in the accounting/finance department. But think about it, how fast is your department? How quickly do you handle the boilerplate transactions, i.e. invoice, process cash, pay bills, process payroll?

How about your closing cycle? How quickly are your journal entries made? Is your system fully utilized with recurring and accrual entries? When are your financial statements published and analyzed? Great if within the first week of the new month; just okay if into the second week; and too slow if you are beyond that. Your system should give you the maximum amount of time to produce reports and push your department’s observations and opinions to management.

What about your bank reconciliations, schedules, and aging analyses? These items can be worked on during the month, and the sophistication of your software will determine how fast you complete these important tasks.

Which departments are slowing your system down? Are invoices not approved and sitting on someone’s desks? What about scrap and obsolete inventory? Whatever the bottleneck, develop a procedure that will ensure speedy delivery of data. You should explain the purpose of your request; otherwise it will be perceived as a nuisance.

The faster you move, the quicker the business decisions. Go all out; challenge everything that moves slowly.

16 Cent Electric Bill

October 9th, 2010

I heard that a large public utility company in California sent a sixteen cent electric bill recently. 16 cents? I thought to myself, who is the person responsible for billing there? The total cost of the bill, including the cost to the customer, is a lot more than this paltry amount.

A sixteen cent bill tells me there is no analysis of transaction costs at the public utility. Besides that, no one there cares about the customer, who will either take the time to make an online payment, or they will write out a check, post the check to their checkbook, mail the bill and check with proper postage, and then reconcile the check on their bank statement. Maybe the person will pay the check in person, which adds more processing cost to the utility company.

That’s stupid. And it’s mind boggling.

Do you know what your transaction costs are? How much does it cost for you to send a bill to your customer—all in? By “all in” I mean what is the cost to produce and process the transaction through the payment cycle? Contrarily, how much does it cost you to pay a bill?

Do you have a minimum amount baked into the system that you will bill out, or pay out? Use your software to regulate these minor transactions. You can carry over these small amounts and include them with future invoices or payments.


October 7th, 2010

What is the image of you and your department? Do you play along with the company’s politics, or do you stand up and speak your mind? Are you respected for your opinion, or do you take care of the transactions and reporting and leave the business decision-making to others?

How your image fits within your company can determine your success—and your longevity. Your fit with one set of executives and managers may work well; expectations are within a relative range of acceptability. However, even minimal turnover may have a huge effect on the water level. While the outcome, i.e. financial performance, may remain the same, the style change may place you—and your career–in a tenuous position.

If you are aggressive and express your opinion, it may not bode well if a dictator comes into the picture. You must change your style, move on, or risk being shown the door. Changing your style may work in the short term; but eventually you will revert to your old habits and the sparks will fly.

Whatever your image is, keep it consistent. Flip-flopping your style will exhaust everyone around you and your image will be diluted and lose credibility.