Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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Dec
19

Thimk – A Good Reminder to do Just That

When Thomas J. Watson, Sr. joined the Computer-Tabulating Recording Company in 1914, he brought with him the slogan he coined while a sales manager at the National Cash Register Company, “THINK.”  His famous “THINK” slogan and sign became a fixture in IBM offices worldwide for many decades.  Watson said,

“Thought has been the father of every advance since time began.  ‘I didn’t think’ has cost the world millions of dollars.”

I remember being a kid when seeing the small, leather-covered pocket notebook that my friend’s father carried.  It had only one word on the cover, deeply embossed in the leather’s surface – “Think.”  While I haven’t always abided by the message, I frequently reflect on it.  When I do, I slow down and put thinking ahead of doing, at least for a short period of time.  Funny enough, things often work out better when I get the order right.

Some time after Thomas Watson introduced his simple, but critical message, MAD Magazine spoofed it in a way that may even convey the message better than the original.  “THIMK.”

They added another good message, “Plan Ahead,” with the last few letters having to be squeezed into the available space.

I see entrepreneurs in startups forgetting to think all the time.  Especially post-funding when they tend to put their noses to the grindstone, in execute-only mode.  Their excitement about getting the business going and spending the money they’ve gotten often makes them forge ahead with a brute force mentality, always assuming that all the planning that needs to be done was completed prior to funding.  It’s important at any stage to stop, take a deep breath and think.  It may be most important during those months of execution post-funding, when all assumptions are truly tested and target markets and customers can be better understood.

Watson had it right, the simple reminder to “think” may be one of the most important messages that anyone ever gets.  MAD Magazine’s version may be even a better way to remember it.

 

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 December 19th, 2006  
 Will  
 Management  
   
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Dec
18

FCC Drops Morse Code Requirement for Amateur Radio License

What a rip off.  When I got my noob license as a kid (yes, they had electricity then), the Morse Code requirement was the toughest part.  I’d say I’m all thumbs, but that might make you believe that the opposing thumb thing was an advantage.  I probably could have coded better with my toes.  It’s not that I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time . . . I find it challenging to do much easier things like breathing and blinking simultaneously without screwing one of those up.  I worked for a month to get to 3 words a minute, or whatever de minimus speed was required to pass the initial test.  I never got any faster.

According to this post on Engadget, the FCC has bagged the rule.  I can see how, practically speaking, the requirement is stupid these days, but now any moron can get a license.  Everyone should have to work as hard as me, after all.  It’s just not fair!  😉

 

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 December 18th, 2006  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
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Dec
18

Getting Chastised by an Investor

Several years ago, I was part of a team that did a slightly leveraged management buyout of a division of a larger company.  The deal was a relatively straightforward acquisition of all the assets, licenses, rights and so forth of the division for about $55M.  Roughly $35M came from a single VC fund.  Another $15M was in bank debt and the final $5M came from a small fund that an investment bank had for such deals.  At the close of the deal, the larger VC took a board seat, but the investment banker, at my urging, declined a seat at the table.

I was having lunch with the investment banker that did the deal (who is now the President and CEO of the investment bank) the other day.  The conversation was cordial enough until he brought up the fact that he felt that he was never kept in the loop about what was going on inside the company and was constantly surprised – mostly negatively – with news from and about the company.  He reminded me that at one point, the bank had threatened to pull the company’s loan.  Something that he did not learn about until very late in the process.

Needless to say, I was exceedingly embarrassed.  As hypocritical as it sounds from this situation, I pride myself in my active communication with all parties involved, regardless of the level of their involvement.  It’s not even like the guy was an asshole or anything.  In fact, he’s a terrific guy who would work to help me deal with any issues in a calm and straightforward manner . . . if given the chance.  His advice was always good and, even more important, it was given well.  Gulp!  I screwed up.  Further, I’m sure I’ve done this type of thing many times, too.  He’s just the first guy who thought it was worthwhile to say something about it.

So, what did I do wrong.  After a few days of reflection, it was clear that I made several mistakes.

  1. My belief that I’m great communicator prevented me from seeing that I’m not.  Well, not always anyway.  Damn the ego!
  2. I treated investors sitting at the table (the Board table, that is), different from investors less actively involved.
  3. I forgot that my pool of mentors and advisors extended beyond the people I interact with on a day-to-day basis.
  4. Over time, my ignorance of the problem became a permanent mental block as we took the company public, eventually selling it, and everyone made money.  Success clouds the recognition and memory of failure.

Doh!  It’s really painful rewarding  upsetting great to have a good kick in the ass once in a while to remind me that I still don’t really know anything.

 

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 December 18th, 2006  
 Will  
 General Business, VC  
   
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Dec
17

Patriots Tame Texans 40-7

Not much to complain about this week.  I’m sure the Patriots did a poor job at some parts of the game, but it’s tough to tell when the score is so lopsided.  I thought the Pats defense was very good, actually.  Of course, beating the Texans is something almost everyone does, so this shouldn’t be a big deal.  The Pats did it without their leading running back, starting defensive tackle, key free safety and number one tight end, though, so it’s possible it really is indicative of something positive.

The Pats have to beat one of either the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Tennessee Titans on the road in the final two games of the year to clinch the division title.  That assumes that the Jets win both of their last two games against much easier teams – Miami and Oakland.  Obviously, if the Jets lose just one . . .

I sure hope the good Pats show up next week.  So I don’t have to be nervous for two full weeks.  In the mean time, it sure is great to see a big victory like this, though.

 

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 December 17th, 2006  
 Will  
 Patriots  
   
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Dec
16

Hablamos un poco ingles aqui

That’s my high school Spanish translation of “we speak a little English here.” 

I live near Natick, Massachusetts, the unlikely home of what I’m told is the largest Home Depot in the world (for now – word is that there is a bigger one is going into Palo Alto, CA).  The presence of this behemoth has kept competitors out of the local market until now.  A brand-spankin’ new Lowe’s opened its doors just down the street this week.  Being the “home improvement store” slut that I am, I had to run right over and check it out.

As I entered the almost empty (of people) warehouse of a store I was blown away by the huge amount of . . . Spanish.  That’s right.  The unbelievable amount of the Spanish language everywhere I looked.  So much so that I often had trouble finding the English.  It was always there, of course, and while generally on the top or to the left of the Spanish, it was by no means more visible.  Interestingly, my eye kept going  right to the Spanish instead of the English.  I’m sure there is some cognitive/perceptive explanation for that.  I found it truly distracting and, in the end, annoying enough to drive me out of the store.

It wasn’t just the signs – of which there were always dozens in my field of vision – but all the packaging had a combination of Spanish and English, too.  Often the combination of the languages on the packaging was even more confusing than the signage in the store.  The packaging frequently interleaved English and Spanish – each feature in English immediately followed by the same in Spanish.  With this structure, I couldn’t just read the package (top to bottom or left to right) in a single language.

Funny enough, if there is a second language in the geographic area of the store, it’s probably Portuguese.  The area has a relatively large and rapidly expanding Brazilian population.

I have no problem with many languages being spoken in this country, but I feel strongly that everyone must be able to speak at least one common language.  Since this country was founded with English as its primary language and, for the time being at least, the majority of people speak English, that should be the common language – regardless of what other languages are spoken at home, between friends or in private.  The inability to communicate within society, at the very least will create a huge cultural chasm, class differences, absurd costs of doing business and a split in society.  Just look at Quebec.  The division between French and English speakers has caused a huge rift and constant turmoil in the Canadian province.  As my good friend Lorne Cooper recalls from his time growing up in Quebec . . .

  • Half the people don’t talk to each other.
  • In practice, having two languages means institutionalizing a majority and minority, and in the long run the minority it is protecting gets disadvantaged.
  • Successful societies have as much in common as possible, and language is one of the biggest barriers to sharing a culture.

For Lowe’s, this is simply a business issue.  They are doing what they feel they need to do to have a competitive advantage.  I can’t blame them for that.  My issue is with how American government and society, in general, are dealing with the rapidly growing problem.  Or not dealing with it, as the case may be. 

This has happened before in this country.  Prior to World War I, there were many languages spoken in the US and the melting pot wasn’t melting so quickly.  World War I was a binding force of patriotism, though, and brought everyone together.  This included the wide-spread convergence of all communication to a single language – English.  I’m not suggesting that global warfare is a solution, of course, but unless we’re all willing to stand by and watch a wedge splitting American society, the government is going to have to step in and mandate how this will be handled.  While I am almost always against having the government attempting to control behavior, there are times when society itself isn’t motivated enough as a group to do the right thing – think civil rights.

Does anyone actually feel that challenging areas like education, medicine or emergency services get any easier to manage by doubling-up on the number of languages that constitute a baseline for society?  How about something as simple as roads – directions and signs?  Businesses having to promote their products to two distinct groups instead of one?  The cost to a society is huge and it needs to be dealt with before it runs completely out of control.  I’m afraid it’s well on its way there . . .

 

 December 16th, 2006  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 4 Comments
Dec
15

Understanding the Sales Mentality

One of the problems that many young companies and new CEOs encounter is dealing with the cultural differences between a company’s various functional groups as the organization grows.  Different roles require different philosophies, attitudes and methods.  Sometimes, a person in one group has a difficult time understanding the actions of a person in another.  Left unexplained, this situation can create a rift between people who often need to work closely in order for the company to perform at it’s best.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the substantial gap between how, say, an engineering or operations group is run and how a direct sales group functions on a day-to-day basis.  This video, titled “A Few Good Expenses” says it all pretty well, I thought. 😉

YouTube video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OTgb3KO7QM

 

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 December 15th, 2006  
 Will  
 Selling  
   
 4 Comments
Dec
13

Board Meeting Attendance and Frequency

Fred Wilson has a great post today on his blog, AVC, titled, Required Attendance Board Meetings.  In the post, Fred discusses his thoughts on face-to-face meetings of which he is in favor and I strongly agree; the frequency of meetings for companies with respect to their maturity – more for younger companies, fewer for older ones; board dinners – a good thing, although not required at every meeting; and management preparation for board meetings – don’t spend too much time preparing material.

Fred’s post is an excellent addition to the growing number of posts concerning board meetings.  Check it out.

 

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 December 13th, 2006  
 Will  
 Boards  
   
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Dec
13

Massachusetts? The Safest Place to Drive in the US?

What the hell is he smokin’?, you might ask.  Anyone who has driven in Boston knows that the only way to get anywhere in the city is to completely disregard the laws and any respect one might have for other cars, pedestrians or drivers.  Driving behavior doesn’t change as you leave the city, either – the asylum lets its inmates out at 5 o’clock every day and they take their cars and a full-days worth of pent up frustration on the road with them when they exit the city’s boundaries.  This causes a domino-effect across most of the state – Massachusetts is a pretty small place, after all.

This month’s Car and Driver magazine ranks the 50 states in terms of their “friendliness” to motorists.  They have a pretty complete spreadsheet of all their sources of data available here.  Now, in terms of overall “friendliness”, Massachusetts ranks 20th – I’m shocked it’s that high, actually.  But, one of the factors used in determining “friendliness” is on-road fatalities.  Surprisingly, Massachusetts shines in this category with only 0.87 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.  For what it’s worth, Mississippi was the worst in this category with 2.28 and the entire country came in with 1.44.

In trying to figure out what this means.  I immediately asked the question, “well, what about accidents that resulted in injuries, but not death?”  I’m afraid that the data doesn’t cover this.  It could be, after all, that Massachusetts driver’s driving habits just include a blatant disregard for personal property and a strong desire to send a message about who is in control, with no intent or desire to go any further than that.  Perhaps they follow George Carlin’s mocked description of Mohammad Ali’s refusal to go to war.  “I’ll beat ’em up, but I won’t kill ’em.”

Of course, the key to data is how you interpret it and, in this case, the data creates more questions than answers.  The end results are the end results, though, and fewer deaths is always a good thing.  Other than that, you can’t draw much more from the numbers as presented (at least in terms of on-road fatalities, there is plenty of other good information in the data presented).  As Csaba Csere, the author of the article and editor in chief of Car and Driver points out, “I suspect this says more about the higher willingness of Massachusetts drivers to buckle up than it does about their inherent driving talent . . .”

 

 December 13th, 2006  
 Will  
 Misc Thoughts  
   
 10 Comments
Dec
11

Revisiting Leadership vs. Management

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post titled Leadership vs. Management.  I followed it up with another on the topic titled, So, You Wanna Be a Leader . . . ”  The core of both posts is my strong belief that leadership and management are two very different skills that are frequently thought of as one.  I contend that there are very few people with great management AND great leadership abilities.  Recognition of this fact will general help people be better leaders AND better managers.

Recently, I stumbled upon a site, BuildingBrands (no affiliation),that has a great entry titled, Are You a Manager or a Leader?  There are several definitions and anecdotes that make the difference between leaders and managers more clear.  I especially like the author’s use of “contrasting words” to describe the two disciplines.

MANAGERS

administer

are a copy

maintain

systems/structure focus

control

short-term

how/when

bottom line

imitate

accept

good soldier

do things right

LEADERS

innovate

are an original

develop

people focus

trust

long-range

what/why

horizon

originate

challenge

own person

do the right thing

While I don’t agree with all of the author’s contrasts – good managers are originals in their own right and innovate constantly, I think his table points out the contrasting qualities of each function and helps emphasize how different they actually are.

It’s a great web site.  Check it out.

 

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 December 11th, 2006  
 Will  
 Leadership, Management  
   
 4 Comments
Dec
11

Pathetic Pats Pummeled

Yet another crappy game for the New England Patriots.  They got thrashed by the Miami Dolphins 21-0.  While no part of the team’s game looked good, the offensive line was like a welcome mat – Tom Brady found himself on his ass on almost every play.  Not that he threw well even on the few occasions when he had time.  Geesh.

All I can say is that the Jets losing to the Buffalo Bills yesterday may have saved the Pats’ chances of getting into the playoffs.  Not that they deserve it.

I guess I feel better than my friends who are Colts fans.  Wow, I thought Jacksonville was hot, but that’s just scorching (44-17).  Giving up 375 yards in rushing alone is gonna kill you in the end.  As it did for Indy.

One last football thought . . . New Orleans looks like the real deal.  It’s not only about Reggie Bush, the whole team looks solid.  Could they be the NFC’s savior?  Sorry Chicago fans.  The Bears are good, but the Saints are exhibiting such a December surge that they may be unstoppable.

 

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 December 11th, 2006  
 Will  
 Patriots  
   
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