Category Archives: Business

The one guy you can’t live without

You’re doing your darnedest to impress the client or you’re trying to show off to competitors at a convention and suddenly you look for something inane like a pen or a post it pad or you simply hope that there’s paper in the bathroom.

You turn round and….. it’s all there where it’s supposed to be.  One of your support personnel busted their butt overnight or the week before as they always do and made sure everything was where it’s supposed to be.

We never notice them and we give them little to no praise.  It’s their job, right?  But we certainly notice when those little annoying details aren’t there.

Office managers, secretaries, personal assistants, administrators.  They don’t all do the same thing but their roles sometimes overlap and sometimes merge together in the modern office.

I’ve known a few in my time.  I think it takes a certain type of personality that wants to deal with all the petty and minor details that we take for granted.

We live in proposals, in presentations, in the glitz and glamour of the business world.  They read office depot catalogs, surf through business supply websites, and generally put up with complaints from their co-workers with a smile or at least an indulgent blank stare.

I know we don’t say it enough but thank you.

Old school ties

Every once in a while someone will send in a resume through our sales inquiry form or they’ll call the main line and ask if we’re hiring.  I suppose when you’re looking for work you need to try every approach and take any opportunity to ask.

Once in a really long time I will get a professor from my old school contact me about a protegé that needs work experience or some recent grad will look through the former student rolls and randomly call people and push the “old school ties” to see if they can land a job.

“A” for effort but that’s not going to work with me.  I suppose it may have been possible at one time that going to a particular university may have insured you landing a good job no matter what your qualifications may have been.  I’ve personally never met anyone who claimed this dubious honor.  I know I wouldn’t brag about it if I had landed a job like that.

Nowadays I really can’t see this happening anymore.  Employees are investments as well as resources.

An employer will spend a significant amount of money recruiting, paying a salary to, setting up benefits for, and providing training for a new hire.  In small companies every employee is crucial to the success of the business. Many times employees in small companies have to take on a wide variety of different jobs and there really isn’t room for such favoritism based on something so arbitrary as having the same university in common.

You need people who can do not just the work assigned to them but be flexible enough to take on other responsibilities as well.

If I see a resume from a fellow former student (There is no such thing as an Aggie alumni) I will wish them luck.  I will reminisce with them about the school.  I will acknowledge that they went to a good university.  I know that they are willing to work hard.  But that’s all I know.  I can’t draw any other inferences from the university that they attended.  I don’t know anything about their ability to think or how they work with other people or what their particular strengths or weaknesses are.

Old school ties belong at reunions, they belong at tailgate parties for football games in the fall, they belong on maroon t-shirts but they definitely don’t belong in the job interview process.


When I was a kid I was introduced to the father of one of my friends.  He had been a company commander in the Korean war.  Back then I was fascinated by all things military and I quizzed him about his experiences.

I asked if he carried a gun.  He said sometimes but not often.  I then asked him if it was scary not having a weapon on a battlefield.  He replied that he didn’t need a gun.  His company was his weapon.

It was one of those “light bulb turning on” moments.  A simple change in perspective.  An entire unit wielded by one individual as a weapon or a tool.

Years later I started thinking about this with regards to business and how successful managers have to strike a balance between getting overly involved in the daily operations of their subordinates and getting so distant from what’s going on that they lose perspective.

A couple of key points come up in this discussion.

Firstly that you don’t demand success from your subordinates.  Rather you put people into positions and jobs that they can handle and then create situations in which they can succeed.  You don’t put an accountant in charge of office supplies or a salesman in delivery.  You assign these people the jobs that they are best suited for and let them carry out their roles as they know best.

Secondly, when you get into a position of power or responsibility you have to stop thinking entirely in the moment and start thinking more tactically or strategically.  Whether you’re just a manager at a local fast food place or the CEO of a major corporation you have to see more of the “bigger picture”.  You think more about competitors, and clients, and supply chains, and the economy and what that might mean to your sales.  Depending on your position you might think a little about this or spend all day on it.

You could, and there have been, entire libraries written on the subject of management but it boils down to just a simple point.  The science and art (let’s make up a new word, sci-art) of management is learning how to use the human and physical resources at your disposal to achieve your goals.

If you can learn how to do that then you can achieve any aim that you want.

fine line

I was watching what was supposed to be a travel show about Chicago the other day.  The premise was two friends from out-of-town visiting another friend and he would show them some of the best parts of the city.

The drove around some of the landmarks and some of the hidden gems of the city and they did it in a shiny new SUV.  After the second “subtle” view of the SUV it became painfully obvious this was nothing more than a car ad disguised as a travel log.

I showed it to some Chicagoans and they said they had never heard of some of these landmarks and restaurants and that Chicago had better places to offer.

So not only was this a badly disguised advertisement for a car but it didn’t even live up to its premise of being a travel log.

Of course this is not a new form of advertising.  People have been trying to slip in product placements into such shows for ages and it’s not even a new phenomena on the internet.  I ran across this type of advertising about 9 years ago when an American car company ran a series of soap opera type vignettes about some twentysomethings featuring their car.

I have nothing against this sort of advertising as long as it’s done right.  This ad however broke a few cardinal rules.

1. Do what you promise to do.  If you’re going to pose as a travel show then do some travel show research.  If you pretend to be a soap opera then hire some decent writers to write a compelling storyline.  Deliver the value that you promise.

2. Don’t go overboard on the product placement.  Sure the client might want to make every shot feature the product but that’s not how things work.  No one wants to see that.  Work the product into the storyline.  Find a way.  Don’t just shove it in people’s faces.

3. Whatever your method, make it entertaining.  Whether you’re going for funny, suspenseful, sexy, whatever.  You need to treat this as anything but an advertisement.

We are making a transition as a culture away from the old forms of entertainment like TV, radio, and movies onto the internet.  While advertising has made great strides in adapting itself to this new media it still has a way to go to fit the sharper, more mobile, and less attentive audience.

The company that comes up with a working formula that addresses the needs of the internet audience will have a great advantage in the years to come.

Getting out there

I was chatting about work and life the other day over tea at Starbucks.  The conversation drifted in the direction of business networking.  Not the computer kind of network but the personal type of network.  The type that’s hard for me.

Networking really hasn’t changed at all since the first business office was set up.  Having a wide circle of friends and acquaintances always pays off.  Although we may live in an interconnected world of instantaneous communications we still have to initiate contact with other people in order for it to work.

I don’t mean just send emails back and forth or maybe even have a phone conversation but actually “talk” to the other person.  Whether that person is a client, a colleague or even a competitor at another company.  Being more than just a contact card in an email directory is important.  It means that you’re an actual human being that the other person might think of when it comes time to ask for a job, a business opportunity or an introduction to someone else.

Initiating contact doesn’t have to be a big production involving flowers or lunch or whatever.  You can just initiate contact by asking the other person how they’re doing during the course of your regular work exchange.  Do some “industry gossip”.  Talk about that other third company that has nothing to do with you or speculate on the future of your field.  Ask about their goals and plans.

The main thing is that you become a known quantity, that you have a personality, and that you’re a factor in their life.  Not a giant factor but a factor.  You’ll never expect them to break down and cry on your shoulder and you should not expect them to lend you money but at the very least if things go bad you can send out resumes to them, you can ask them if they know about any open bids, you can query them about some job applicant that they may know.

This is the way that the business world works, folks.  It always has and always will be this way.

The holiday hustle

Sometimes people can be so ridiculous.  The 4th of July is coming up and people are already plotting and planning on how to get the most of a single day off.

They shuffle extra days off, doctor’s visits, vacations, and any good excuse to stretch out a three-day weekend into five or six days.  I’ve already had to reschedule phone conferences, projects, and have had to move quickly to get proposals out to people before they leave.

I have to say that some people really have some gall and don’t really care what this does to co-workers and colleagues that suddenly have their work lives altered to suit their needs.

Things really get bad around the end of the year with Christmas and New Year’s.  In these cases I’ve known companies to shutter for up to 2 weeks at a time.  Granted, the holiday period is a traditionally dead time of the year business wise.  Budgets have already been spent, new budgets don’t kick in till January and there seems to be a collective expectation that no one else is doing anything so why should we?

But wouldn’t it be better if instead of trying to make every short holiday longer why not cancel holidays and just give people more days off during the year.  Maybe instead of 2 weeks off during the year, why not 21 days to do with as you want.  Break it up into 3 one week vacations.  Plan ahead and do all 3 weeks at once.  Take the time off when it suits you instead being forced by convention to take certain days off.

I think if you let workers have more control over their time that they will reward you with being more productive during the time that they are there.

keep in touch

Business is an ever-changing and an increasingly difficult endeavor.  What were good and preferable business practices 20 years ago either no longer apply or are actually detrimental.  All of us have to keep our eyes open and try to notice the latest trends and keep up with the new opportunities presented by modern technology.

The fundamentals however still apply.  Some business practices will always be there no matter how much the world changes.  One of these practices is maintaining the lines of communications with your client not only open but fresh.

By open I mean that before, during, and after a project your client should be able to get a hold of the sales team, the production team, and the management.

Before the project begins when the sales team is the point of contact the client should feel comfortable to ask all relevant questions and get answers if not instantaneously then extremely quickly.  This is achieved by having a sales staff that is fully conversant with the products and services being offered and if they cannot answer a question then the production team should be available to answer these questions.

During the project the client needs to be able to maintain a constant flow of communication with the production team.  The management staff needs to be in the conversation in case problems arise or if the client wants to alter the parameters of the project.

After the project the sales team resumes communications with the client.  Firstly they need to assess if the client’s experience with the process was satisfactory or whether some aspects need improvement.  Next the sales team needs to begin broaching the subject of future or follow on projects.  This is the best time to do this with a satisfied client.

Keeping these lines of communications open and making sure that the client has the best possible experience possible will go a long way in turning a new client into an old and repeat customer.  This will help expand and solidify your core business base.

The roots of corruption

One of the big news stories currently being discussed is the investigation into charges of corruption at the world soccer federation (FIFA).  Several high-ranking members of that organization have been arrested and the head of FIFA has been forced to resign as a consequence of the controversy.  Not just minor little thefts or petty little bribes but mind-boggling huge bribes and corrupt practices that go beyond the pale.

Ordinary people like myself have to wonder at the culture that engendered and possibly even encouraged this type of corrupt practices to flourish.  How could this have happened?  Where were the safeguards and monitors that should have prevented this?  Even the basic tenets of standards and good practices seem to be missing here.

A blog that I recently read sheds some light on this.  Two of the points raised in this blog seem to be pertinent here.

Firstly, there seems to have been a culture within FIFA that not only tolerated but almost encouraged the corrupt practices that took place within the organization.  Bribery seems to have been expected not only by the perpetrators but also by the members of FIFA who seem to have accepted handing out bribes to officials as part of the costs of doing business with FIFA.

Secondly, a slow or even non-existent judicial process that sought to either stifle or shut down any sort of investigation and punishment of corruption with regards to these officials.  Corruption at FIFA has been a sort of open secret for years yet no one around the world and certainly not within FIFA sought to do anything about it due to the fact that no sanctions would ever be taken at all.

A third point that wasn’t in the blog but I feel also contributed to this problem is FIFA’s success.  Being the world’s largest sport federation and creating such a wildly popular sporting event such as the world cup I think gave FIFA officials the sense that they could do no wrong and that they were above the law.  Over time their excesses have grown and grown to the point that they have become inexcusable and impossible to overlook.

One has to wonder about other large institutions like governments, businesses, and non-governmental organizations and ponder which of these may be hiding corrupt practices behind a veneer or infallibility or success.

How can reformers or critics point out these excesses without fear of reprisal and with the hope that change will take place? How can those within an organization spot these corrupt practices as they take place and take steps to curtail them before they bloom?



I was at a convention recently.  One of those pop culture conventions that caters to the younger crowd and as is my wont I tend to wander round the dealer’s room for hours at a time discovering new things and resisting the urge to buy everything.

Anyways I was near the center and I came upon a small tent display for a large name insurance company.  They were offering the usual little knickknacks that they give away at conventions (fridge magnets, paperweights, pens, etc) and they were trying to get names and email addresses.  A few rows over another company was advertising high-end bedding.

This made me wonder who came up with this?  I mean I understand the advertising concept of “go where there’s a crowd”, but I mean really?  Hawking bedding and insurance at a pop culture convention inhabited mainly by kids, teens, and twentysomethings?  What type of resources (as in $) are they throwing into this effort and what sort of return are they realistically expecting to get from this?

Of course this isn’t the only example I saw of this type of thing. Over the memorial day weekend there were of course several sporting events including some major races and many of these events have corporate sponsorship but at least there the expected audience is more generalized and it’s more likely that you will get some return on your investment.

This idea of just showing up at these conventions and trying to plug yourself in no matter what really doesn’t make any sense to me.

At the very least I would hope that these companies might try to come up with some themes, giveaways, or some sort of tie in to the convention that might somehow appeal to the expected audience.  Something so they won’t seem so out-of-place.

go with what you have

Back when I was just starting out in my career I worked for a small company of consultants. This was in the mid-90s and we still weren’t fully digital.  My main job was creating maps.  Maps of rivers, maps of forests, maps of roads.  Just all sorts of maps.

Since we weren’t that big we couldn’t afford the fancy mapping software of the day.  Some software packages ran up to $25000 and had $5000 a year maintenance fees.  Nothing that my bosses were eager to pay.  So we did what we could.  I would first hand draw all the maps from paper satellite images and then laboriously digitize these lines on a digital drafting tablet using some cheap $99 software package my boss had bought out of the back of some trade magazine.

I would then hand encode each and every line using the USGS Digital Line standards guide.  A phone book sized book of codes and categories.

Once all of this was done I would turn over a floppy disk over to our computer specialist who was coding and refining his own homemade mapping software and after countless edits and hours and hours of misery we would end up with a digital computer file like one generated by an expensive software package.

So what’s the benefit?  I mean other than saving money which in and of itself isn’t the most compelling reason.  I mean you could easily bake in the costs of new software into the project budgets and get yourself the new software over time.

I found later on in my career that having to do these things by hand and really delving deep into the esoteric issues of codes and hand digitizing that I got a better appreciation for data quality and for resolving issues with data from other parties.

Whereas before if I had a problem with data I would have to go through files line by line to find a glitch, after a while I developed a sense of what the problem was with a piece of data and how to resolve it.  Something that I probably would not appreciate if I would have had access to the fancy software package.

Using the tools at hand makes you more resourceful.  It allows you to get a more technical feel for the processes and the practices that govern your field, whatever that may be.

I am totally for working with the best of equipment, the best people, and the best established practices but I also think there is a lot to be said for making do with what you have and having to be creative to engineer a solution for yourself.