While out running recently my mind wandered to my career. As I thought about each company and all the people I challenged myself to name the single most important lesson learned at each. Here goes (endorphins and all):
This one is simple --- Dow Corning hires really smart people. Not just scientists. But smart accountants, smart marketers, you name it.
I remember Jim Leyland (ex-Detroit Tigers baseball manager) saying that he could turn a .300 hitter into a .400 hitter but couldn’t turn a .200 hitter into a .300 hitter. Talent matters. And smarts matter. Dow Corning was filled with both.
Take a look around. Are you always the smartest one in the room? If you are, then you are in trouble.
Question: Have you surrounded yourself with really smart people? Take a look around.
Herman Miller is an interesting company period. Many takeaways but the biggest lesson without a doubt was the importance of being about something.
Miller is about design. Their loyalty to great design is without question. Nothing else matters really. Great design is so deeply rooted in their DNA they couldn’t be about something else even if they wanted to be.
Question: Is it clear what you are about?
Prince is a company I started in 1997. There I learned the creative powers of combining products and services that had not previously been combined.
At Prince, we combined several steps of a highly fragmented manufacturing supply chain and put them under one roof. That simple.
However, in doing so we significantly reduced cost (primarily logistics) and created a whole new solution for our customers. A simple one-stop-shop outsource manufacturing service. Customers began outsourcing entire product lines.
Combining things for the sake of combining does not make sense. I know a store that sells bottled water, used prom dresses and satellite dishes. Seriously.
Smartly combing products and services can be hugely successful. Think peanut butter and chocolate.
Question: Are there products / services you could combine with your products / services?
The importance of setting the bar high and not blinking, a lesson learned at Trendway, has been the defining characteristic of my leadership style ever since.
In an industry saturated with me-too products, Trendway chose to separate itself from the pack through true world-class service.
Their on-time delivery performance is so good they offer the industry’s only On-Time-Or-Free Delivery guarantee. The employees simply refuse to be late. It’s personal.
On-Time-Or-Free. That’s putting your money where your mouth is. It is also setting the bar high.
Question: Have you set the bar high enough?
Falcon is a company I started in 2004. Creating a high-performing sales-channel is the biggest challenge facing most start-ups. Going it alone is expensive and it takes a very, very long time. Years. I know. I did it.
Most start-ups seek out an existing channel and then give away the store fighting for attention.
Another approach is to form a go-to-market partnership with non-competitive but aligned businesses. For example, to gain access to non-government market segments, Falcon partnered with several equipment and material manufacturers already established as leading providers.
What made this strategy work is it was mutually beneficial. Falcon got access to the non-government market segments while the go-to-market partners got access to government market segments through Falcon.
Ask around and I bet you will find that most small businesses have the same problem you do.
Question: Have you considered go-to-market alliances?
I share small business tips and lessons that I've learned from 40 years of business experience in both starting and running companies.
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Thanks for reading, seriously, I mean it.