Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Success Factor: Meat Loaf and Donald Trump

John Eckberg is a business columnist at the Cincinnati Enquirer and gets to interview some real movers and shakers in this world, including Larry Bossidy, Deepak Chopra and Sean "Diddy" Combs. He's put together some very interesting stuff in his new book, "The Success Effect: Uncommon Conversations with American's Business Trailblazers."

As he says in his introduction: "My style as a business reporter is to ask people questions about issues that appeal to me...Sometimes after working up a story from a particularly interesting interview, I would save the tape and drop it into my desk drawer. I wondered, was there a book in my desk drawer?"

Yes, there was. And it's filled with loads of details from some of these great minds, even such quirky details as what books are on their nightstand, what CDs they listen to and favorite foods. I asked Eckberg recently about his book and the people he interviewed.

1.Times are tough in the American workplace today. People are under a lot of stress because they fear they may lose their jobs, and it can be difficult for managers to keep them engaged and productive. Can you provide an example from your book of a leader (or two) who provides some great advice in keeping workers motivated and engaged?

Tami Longaberger started out as a cashier at her father’s grocery store in a small town in Ohio. Eventually, her father found that quality baskets created by craftsmen had immense appeal among Midwesterners and the company grew to become the largest collection of artisans in the nation. But even Longaberger Baskets have seen some challenges and Tami recalled her father’s words during downswings. It’s a simple mantra:Do Something. Don’t just wait for a change to come, make the change happen. Try something different. Don’t wait for times to change. Take steps to bring changes.

Motivating workers has always been a challenge for achieving companies, organizations and teams as inspired workers must feel a sense of ownership. Also there’s this: Tom Kelley of IDEO points out that mandates from the top or from managers are not nearly as effect as “invitations.” You must “invite” people to innovate. He says in the book: “Let people know it’s okay to do this. You cannot force creativity; much of management is getting out of the way and giving people permission, literal or figurative, to do something that’s a little bit weird, a little bit off the norm. There are very few companies in America that get this. It’s an incredibly powerful tool. It gives vision and it gives power.”

2. There are many job seekers right now who feel really hopeless, like their career is over and they don’t know what to do. Who is a leader who had great failure in their career and overcame it to be successful? How did they do it?

I think NBA legend Oscar Robertson is a great example. Let’s face it, even the best basketball players in the world miss a majority of their shots. But they don’t stop shooting. And after Robertson left basketball – arguably he’s the best player to have ever played the game – the world of business was not an easy transition.

One of his company’s went into bankruptcy reorganization but came out immediately thereafter. Still financing was a challenge. Robertson said: “You need the business and you need the financing but which comes first. I started a little company where I was selling meat to the military. I went to the bank and the bank said Oh, this isn’t going to work. I told the guy, look, do you know how much meat the military buys every day? The thing is, if I’m making five, six or 10 million bucks, I don’t need the bank. It’s when you have market projections and business ideas, that’s when you need the bank.”

Today his Orchem has a product line that uses enzymes to remove stains from clothing and the same “green” product cleans grease from kitchens and from municipal sewer lines. It wasn’t easy for Robertson to achieve success and he had a name recognized all over the world. So, if it’s not easy for him, it’s going to be even more difficult for everybody else. People need to persevere and keep a good attitude about their likelihood of success.

Rick Malir, founder of City Barbeque, a chain of 10 barbeque restaurants in Ohio, has this notion about failure and what people can learn from it. Most folks who fail “Don’t know how to buy an alarm clock. And there’s attitude…getting great people is the key. In the beginning, I was too soft and wanted to be everybody’s friend, that we could have a utopian society. But I found you have to have standards. We don’t allow people to berate their employees. We don’t allow our people to berate the suppliers. We don’t get angry. We don’t shout. We try to be firm. We try to be fair.”

3. What is something these leaders have in common that you feel was critical in them becoming so successful?

I have a saying that you haven’t lost the game until you quit. These people, most of them anyhow, have an immense reserve of pluck, will and desire. Call it grit. Call it stick-to-it-ness. Call it tenacity. They just don’t know how to give up. I call it the GO FIGURE factor.
* Observant.They are acutely observant about how people commit, but not just commit to buy something…they know how to get people to commit to groups, initiatives, companies and efforts.
* Fun. These people are Fun, usually, and that’s important because we spend so much of our lives at work, that most people want to spend time working with and working for somebody who is fun.
* Inventive. They are immensely Inventive and see opportunities that the rest of us don’t notice.
*Gracious.It’s not often thought of as an important trait but I think it may be the most important attribute. Having manners and being gracious tends to compel people to want to give you their labor. You can get work from people with a paycheck but for a person to offer their labor, well, that’s something else. And people are more likely to offer their labor to somebody who is courteous.
* Unsatisifed.Successful people are usually unsatisfied with what they’ve achieved and always want more.
* Resourceful. Successful people are creative about how to achieve market share and their intelligence will usually open up new pathways.
* Execute. Finally, they have strategies for individuals and teams and they know how to make those strategies work. Put it all together, it’s the G.O. F.I.G.U.R.E. factor.

4.What do you think upcoming leaders of today need to learn from them?

Nobody who is successful in any endeavor is successful because something just happened to them. Sure, sometimes luck is involved but it’s like the old saying, the harder I work, the luckier I get. One thing leads to another is another good saying….but first you have to do one thing. Figuring out what that one thing is going to be is usually the hardest thing for people starting out on careers to get their arms around.

And another notion of mine that people should be sensitive to is that of a career pivot point. I believe there are moments, many of them, actually, in lives when an opportunity is presented but it takes a shift of perception to realize it. Careers are almost always stairways and those stairways have landings. The landing is the pivot point. Knowing when you are at a landing and when it’s time to pause, reflect, recharge and then press onward upward, that’s what people need to look for and work for, I think.

5. Of all those you interviewed, who inspired you the most and why?

I love the story of Bob Robinson and Kaivac. He as a frustrated mechanical engineer in a small town north of Cincinnati called Hamilton who was working maybe 18 hours, night and day, at his father-in-law’s cleaning products company. A division he managed and started that cleaned grocery store floors had flamed out – basically, Robinson would show up after closing hours with a floor burnisher and try to get the floors cleaned before the store opened the next morning…one night his machine broke, the store manager chewed him out immensely and Robinson realized the abuse that people take from vendors, but that’s another story….Anyhow, he realized that the toughest challenge for all commercial buildings is the lavatory. They’ve been filthy places since the time of King George. And innovation, well, that was the rag on the stick and it happened about the same time as King George, too.

So Robinson set out to solve the problem of dirty bathrooms. He had an idea that a pressure washer, chemical dispenser and vacuum on one unit was the way to go….and after many sleepless nights and much trial and error, he created a company that manufactured these units and sells them from Hamilton. More than 100 people are employed.

Now when he flies into cities, Robinson looks down at the rooftops of buildings below and thinks Kaivac, Kaivac, Kaivac….one in each building. He’s expanded to the company into cleaning to remove the germ. This is a niche that is as big as the Grand Canyon and it started with one guy doing something nobody else had done before – solving the problem of how to quickly clean lavatories. I love the story of Kaivac and the will of Robinson to achieve.

6. What was the weirdest bit of information you collected and from whom?

"The Success Effect" has this little quirky thing going on in it where I ask people to go look in their CD changers at home and tell me what CDs are there. Also, what books are on the nightstand, too.

So the book has Donald Trump in it, who started his real estate empire in Cincinnati with an 1,600 unit apartment complex that was half empty (why would his father, already a real estate mogul, give a son a dog of an apartment complex in Cincinnati that was about to go belly-up for a graduation gift, that’s a question I’ll ask Mr. Trump the next time I talk to him)anyhow, the strangest thing I learned in this book was that Mr. Trump’s favorite meal is meat loaf. And for dessert it’s cherry-vanilla ice cream….

Who’d a thunk it?


LorelieJ said...

Hey Anita,

Just reading this post and loved it since it rings true in so many ways. This is just what I needed today!

Thanks for writing!

Anita said...

So glad you enjoyed it. It's always inspiring to hear how successful people had challenges and overcame them.