Thursday, August 25, 2011


No one needs me to tell them that it's tough getting a job today. We have the media to give us that bad bit of news. But there are jobs to be had. And smart people with certain traits and skills can get jobs. Sure, sometimes opportunity knocks, but in times like these, we all have to work hard to make our opportunities.

The saying "Opportunity knocks but once" has been around since it was coined by the early Romans. I prefer what the English scholar and politician, Sir Francis Bacon" said: "A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds."  

I think of Shamrock as a source of opportunity for anyone interested in a great job at Shamrock, if they have the passion we seek. But, we really put our sales candidates through some challenging interviews. 

Before a sales candidate is hired, she or he will have to pass The Test. During The Test, a potential candidate will have to go through three doors: mine (for a 1-to-1 interview), our executive team (a tough group, with a very detailed message that's all about expectations), and our sales team (where a candidate gets the real download about working in sales at Shamrock). Essentially, a sales candidate has three opportunities to, not only learn about us, but to prove his or her worth to the team. 

Usually, even if I'm not fully sold on a candidate I will pass her along to our executive team, because, while I believe in my gut instinct, I want verification and feedback from the team.

What really will sell me on a candidate is easy.  I want to see passion. I want to see a fire in the belly. Whether he's experienced or not, I'm looking for someone who shows a lot of self-confidence, a strong desire to learn the business; someone willing to stick her neck out and think like an entrepreneur willing to answer the question," How can I grow the business?"

If someone gets through these three doors of opportunity intact, and with an ongoing level of excitement and enthusiasm throughout the process, I'd say that he or she has nailed the opportunity.

If we see fire, we hire. And we support our sales team with the tools, technology and equipment they need to be successful. We even provide leads. But (and this is a Big But), it's up to each sales person to go out and do it. Remain motivated. Make the calls, follow up on leads, and get that first meeting with a potential customer. Live up to that initial opportunity seized through a sense of commitment. I can safely say to any news salesperson, if you do all this, great opportunities will be yours for the taking.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I always wanted to be successful. I guess everyone does. Nobody gets up at 7:30am and says, "I want to be a failure." But being a success was something I felt compelled to do. I actually read the book How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. (More for amusement than instruction, of course.) The play, a funny satire based on the book, is about office politics (way before Dilbert) and it's now in revival on Broadway.

Here's a short excerpt from the book:
1. Start in a lower-level position at a company to get your foot in the door. The mail room is often a good place.
2. Get out of the mail room as soon as possible. Don't take a promotion here, or you could be stuck your entire career. Suggest someone else for the job; then go after a position in another department.
3. Get on the company president's good side. Making him think you went to the same college will work well. This can put you in line for a vice- presidency.
 4. Get a brilliant idea. This is especially true if you became Vice President of Marketing. Otherwise, you're in big trouble.
5. Endear yourself to the chairman of the board. This is needed especially if your big idea proves a disaster. Not only could it save your hide, it can put you in line to replace him when he retires.

These tips from the book couldn't possibly help me when I purchased Shamrock in 1989. Then it was just me and seven employees. I literally was the company president, the VP of marketing and the chairman of the board -- all rolled into one hotshot! No one to suck up to! That's when I quickly realized I had to endear myself  to these seven employees, because I'd never survive without their expertise and input.

Each year I learn, over and over again, that my success as a manager is measured by the success of the people who work with me. I also realize that, over and over again, I look to hire people who  are happy to start at the bottom (in the proverbial "mail room") if that's what it takes to get a foot in the door.  But I look for people with a fire in the belly who want to be challenged and move up to the next rung and then the next. Once these folks are motivated I stay out of their way and let them keep climbing. 

A manager's success in business does not come from a My Way or the Highway Philosophy. That kind of thinking is just plain stupid. Success comes from listening to the ideas of the people on your team, and working together -- cheering one another on -- to achieve the goals you've planned for.  Oh, and there's nothing wrong with remaining in the mail room, as long as that's where you want to be, and you're doing a damn good job there.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


During his three terms as New York's mayor, Ed Koch was known for asking just about everyone, "How am I doing?" Koch tackled a problem head-on, asking that dreaded question, and expecting an honest answer. He was known to immediately address an issue before it became a major problem. Koch was one of the most popular mayors New York has ever had.

I always admired Koch for his fortitude at facing his "customers" in a very public way, and in my early years as a sales manager I learned, like Mayor Koch,  if you ignore a problem, it escalates. No. It doesn't go away; it just grows bigger and bigger until it explodes in your face like a rogue firecracker.

Still young, and green, I was assigned to work with an important customer. We had printed a huge number of  brochures for this customer. One problem -- it was on the wrong paper stock. There was very little difference between the paper stock we printed on and the paper stock the customer had requested. Chances are, the customer would never have known. But I told him. Why? If he discovered the difference without me telling him, I'd certainly lose his respect, and maybe even his business. Better to get it out in the open and face his disappointment than face dread for days and weeks, thinking that he will eventually discover the mistake. I made the right decision. Today, his company continues to be one of our best customers.

This honesty with customers has become the backbone of how Shamrock chooses to do business. I encourage everyone who meets with customers to ask , "Tell, me how are we doing?" and wait through the dreaded pause, until the customer answers. That pause, which may only be 60 seconds, can seem like an hour spent sitting in the rain on the topmost part of a roller coaster looking at the steepest decline you've ever seen.

The best outcome to your question is that your customer will actually tell you the truth. If something's wrong, you can clear the air. When I ask, I like to watch my customer's expression when he or she responds. Is it evasive? Warm? Hostile? Submissive? The worst  is a customer who's submissive. That tells me he's not invested in the project and really doesn't value our relationship enough to care about the outcome. The best  is a customer who tells me exactly what she thinks of how and where the project is headed -- even if it hurts my ego to its core. I can finally exhale and, if necessary, say, "We can fix that."

Without asking "how am I doing?", I'd never know if the project's going well or not. And not knowing how I'm perceived by a customer is worse than not knowing where my next project will be coming from. And, if you don't ask, and you don't know, you may never again have the opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief to an answer from that particular customer.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


As I'm writing this, at long last, a deal on raising the US debt ceiling and cutting spending has been reached.  Had we reached the cutoff point for averting a national crisis, I'm sure a Benevolent Dictator would have stepped in and said, "the buck stops here, and this is what we must do, now." If you're curious about management by Benevolent Dictator, I'm happy to fill you in:

 When I first heard the term Benevolent Dictator, I thought I'd heard wrong. It sounds like a contradiction in terms.  After all, benevolent means kind, caring, compassionate. Throughout history, dictators have been called tyrants and bring to mind dreaded names from cutthroat countries ruled by warlords and petty thieves. Put the two words together and it doesn't seem like a very good match.

What changed my mind about the term was a book written by Michael Feuer, founder of Office Max and his contributing editor, Dustin Klein, the publisher and executive Editor of the 17 regional Smart Business magazines read around the country.

I saw the cover of Michael's book, The Benevolent Dictator, which claimed to show readers how to empower people, build business, and outwit the competition. Who could resist such an offer? After I read Michael's book, I was so impressed, I invited him to speak at Shamrock's May 2011 sales meeting. (Michael was a roaring success.)

The reason I was attracted to Michael's take on Benevolent Dictator was a simple statement he made during the sales meeting. Michael said, "The benevolent aspect of a benevolent dictator means doing the greatest good for your constituents: your investors, your employees and your customers. The dictator comes in when the time for talking is done. Building consensus is terrific, but in business, when you have to move from mind to market quickly, sometimes it’s just not practical."

Well, I got the “benevolent” part. But, I also agree with the "dictator" part.

In day-to-day management or in a business crisis (and sometimes in politics), a Benevolent Dictator has to be that someone who knows when to say,  "enough is enough."  Debate, conversation and analysis can only take an organization so far.  The job of the entrepreneur, manager or CEO is to say, “We’re taking this fork in the road, for better or worse, and it’s on my head.”  He or she is the one person who makes the important decisions when it counts – while others vacillate, the clock is ticking and resources are dwindling. Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts on the subject.