Tag Archives: business thinking

A Yankee In Tailgateland

Not only is today Foodie Friday but it’s also the day before the college football season begins in earnest. While I’ve always been a fan of the college game, it wasn’t until I relocated down here in the South that I fully understood the passion and deep community involvement my neighbors have with their college football teams.

Photo courtesy Jonathan Ray

If you’ve read this screed for any amount of time you know that I root for the Michigan Wolverines. That said, I hold season tickets for NC State, one of the local teams. Frankly, given what I’m about to write, I’m not even sure that the tickets are necessary but it’s the only way to get a decent parking spot so you can TAILGATE!

Yes, I’ve learned the joy of tailgating, which is something Southerners appear to do not only at football games but damn near everything else from hockey games to concerts. I suppose some of them are pre-gaming a funeral as we speak…

In any event, tailgating is BIG business all across parking lots. I’d seen some of it when I went to games at Michigan, but it’s NOTHING compared to what goes on here. I suspect that a good number of folks really do just sit in the parking lot without game tickets and watch on TV. The food is sometimes your basic hot dogs and burgers but there are incredibly elaborate spreads too. At some southern schools, there are $25,000 spreads put on for hundreds of people as well as repurposed shipping containers made into tailgating palaces.

What’s the business point today? Had someone come to me for a business idea in my previous life in the sports business, I would never have thought to look at tailgating. I would have been missing a fantastic, and still growing, business. It’s a good reminder that we need to get outside of our little bubbles. Yankees don’t really have anything like this at games up north and although I went to dozens of venues in the South for games, I was working and didn’t hang out in the parking lot.

Our personal bubbles restrict the news we see, the information we digest and the decisions we make. It isn’t until we break out of them, either purposefully or by accident as happened to me with tailgating, that we grow. As people say to me when offering some odd-looking pregame snack, try it – you’ll like it!

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

Back To School Again

It’s the time of year when the kids head back to school. I wish I could join them. Knowing what I know now, and more importantly, what I don’t know now, I’d make better use of my time there. Of course, like the quote commonly attributed to Mark Twain, I tried not to let my schooling interfere with my education.

I’ve written before what I think the only two things one needs to learn while in school, but to sum them up it’s the ability to:

  • Acquire pieces of information, figure out which pieces are accurate and synthesize your own ideas or opinions based on them;
  • Express those ideas or opinions clearly both verbally and in writing.

Does that make you smart? Not exactly although you certainly will sound a heck of a lot smarter. It does make you well-educated in the sense that you’ve obtained the most important skills education can provide. Smart, however, is an entirely different deal and I want us to think for a few minutes today about the different kinds of smart one can be regardless of education.

I’ve never made it a secret that I have a deep affection for smart people, especially those smarter than I am. I always tried to find job candidates who were, above all, really smart in every sense of the word. What do I mean?

First, there is the kind of smart where one is able to synthesize information and develop great insights. Yes, that kind of matched the first part of being well-educated. I’d couple that with intellectual curiosity, however, to make one smart.

Second is what many people would call educated. This is being full of information, what some might call book-learned. However, just because you can puke back a lot of facts, which might make you great at Trivial Pursuit or the trivia contest at your local tavern, you can’t really fool me that you’re smart unless you couple it with the other two parts.

The third part is being emotionally intelligent. As Wikipedia defines it, this is

the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).

In many ways, this is the most important of the three “smarts” in business since it’s the one that helps you behave optimally in areas like customer service, employee management, and partner relations. I know there are other kinds of “smart” – street smart that is probably the personification of Twain’s statement, IQ-smart, which is just raw brainpower to name just two, but I think my three are the ones most critical to business – and life – success since they can be learned and developed while most others one either has or doesn’t.

So as the kids head back to school, maybe this is a good time for each of us to think about how we can get smarter too. What do you think?

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Tasting Change

I was thinking, this Foodie Friday, about how my tastes have changed over the years. Years ago I would eat pretty much anything except beets. They reminded me, as my youngest daughter often describes them, of eating dirt. Now for a vegan, which is what my daughter is, to complain about any vegetable it really has to be bad. Somewhere along the line, I gave them another try and I really liked them.

My older daughter’s tastes have changed too. When she was a child she loved eggs and puddings. Now, almost 30 years later, she is revolted by the sight of eggs and won’t eat them unless they are a binding ingredient in a baked good. If they’re a major element in, say, custard or pudding then she will pass. Something about the texture and smell. Her favorite foods have become her non-starters. Of course, today she will eat just about anything else when she would have to be tricked into tasting anything new back in the day.

Tastes change. Look at the decline in soda consumption or the increase in sushi consumption (you want me to eat raw what?). It’s a given in any market, not just food. It’s incumbent, therefore, on any smart business executive to be open to change. I don’t know about your experience, but mine has been that most executives are not. They generally feel that sticking with what’s been successful will carry them forward, riding the horse that brought them, so to speak.

Ask yourself if you’re really open to change. Can you accept multiple perspectives on things and, more importantly, can you hold off on forming an opinion until you’ve heard some differing points of view? Do you always ask the same questions? That usually results in you getting the same answers. If you’re seeking change you need to ask something different. When was the last time you or someone in your organization tried an experiment? It’s like tasting a new food or, even better, giving something you’d thrown on the trash heap another taste.

I have a friend who has had a limited culinary vocabulary in that she’s not been exposed to a lot of different cuisines. She’s tried some things such as the chopped liver and gefilte fish that even hard-core fans of Jewish cuisine struggle with. She didn’t like them but the point was that she tried them. She was open to change.

I’m sort of in that process. I’m migrating out of the world of management and business consulting and into the world of franchise consulting. It’s been hard to give up the old stuff since I’ve had 40 years of doing it. Truth be told, I’m enjoying the new work a lot more. My tastes have changed but had I not been open to it, I’d still be in the same old rut. Is that where you and your business are?

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Filed under food, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Don’t Surprise Me

You just can’t be too careful these days, can you? It seems that we hear every day about another data breach involving stolen credit card numbers or passwords or anything from your search history to your online shopping list. If you don’t pay much attention to your data security you are definitely, as my Dad used to say, cruisin’ for a bruisin’.

Since I try to make it a habit to practice what I preach, I’m quite careful about security. I use a password manager and I don’t generally store credit card numbers online, preferring to use that password manager to fill in the number as needed. It was quite disturbing, therefore, when my phone buzzed like a tornado was imminent yesterday. It was American Express notifying me of what they thought might be a fraudulent charge at the Microsoft online store. An email arrived simultaneously, telling me about the charge and asking me to click if I had knowledge of it. I didn’t and told them so, which immediately canceled my Amex card (and to their credit, Amex immediately generated a new number and I’ll have a new card today – why I’ve been a member since 1979).

Imagine my surprise this morning when I got an email from Microsoft telling me they “tried to charge your Xbox Live Gold subscription on Tuesday, August 20, 2019, but the charge of $60.59 to American Express was unsuccessful.” Well, no kidding. I told Amex not to pay it because I didn’t know that it was the renewal of something I very much did want to renew. Maybe if Microsoft gave me a little advance notice, which is what many other companies whose products I auto-renew to a credit card do, I wouldn’t have clicked the button that will now result in my having to change credit card numbers on several other things – my cell phone bill, two newspaper subscriptions and several magazines, and a streaming service among them. Every one of them notifies me before charging my card so that I’m expecting the charge. I guess Microsoft hasn’t figured out that when it comes to charges on a credit card people do NOT like to be surprised.

Had Microsoft put on their customer-focused thinking caps, they would have recognized that. Instead, I’m sure someone thought “let’s not give them the chance to cancel and go ahead and charge the auto-renew without telling them ahead of time.” That’s bad customer communication and bad strategy. By keeping the customer’s needs and perspective front and center, we won’t make mistakes like this. Agreed?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Ball Position

I haven’t bored you with a golf-related screed in a while so let’s try that today. Yes, it relates to business too, of course. As I generally do over the weekend, I played golf. If you’ve been a reader for any amount of time you know that I find a great number of life lessons (and business lessons) on the links. Of course, given how badly I played the last few rounds, the only learning of which I became convinced was that I was really terrible at this game.

This morning, with my head a little more clear I went to the driving range. For those of you who are golfers, I thought that my problem was that I needed to shallow out (make a little flatter) my swing because I was digging very deep divots and not striking the ball particularly well. From time to time, especially when I was off the fairway (it happens), I was spraying the ball right because I couldn’t get the clubface back to square due, I thought, to the steepness of my swing.

None of that technical stuff matters, however. I had diagnosed the issue and thought I knew the answer so I went to the range to make a swing change. As with anything, big changes take time and I wanted to get going. You with me so far?

Well, as I was warming up to begin practice, an odd thing happened. I hit a ball with it positioned farther forward (think closer to my left foot) in my stance. The result was an absolutely pure shot – straight, high, and far. No real divot either, just a nice scrape along the ground. I tried it again – the same result. OMG – I don’t stink – the ball was just too far back (toward my right foot) in my stance and I had to come at it too steeply to hit it. With it forward everything else was fine. The club pro was on the range giving a lesson and he wandered over when he was done. He confirmed my swing looked pretty good. and that yes, something as simple as moving the ball forward 3 inches could change everything. Which is, of course, the business point.

How many times have things not been going well and someone – the boss, the management team, maybe you – rants that wholesale changes are needed? This usually starts a chain of events that paralyzes the enterprise. Here is the thing – it’s rare that a business loses its mojo overnight. It’s usually a gradual process of tiny changes, much like me having the ball slide further back in my stance little by little until I became used to playing it too far back which was making it difficult to play well. Businesses let things “slide back” too until they can’t operate well.

Much like my fix, it’s rare that major changes are needed in a business. It’s usually just a matter of paying attention to what had become different over time. It may require some outside eyes to help with that, but usually, the folks with good institutional memory can provide answers (yet another reason why you don’t get rid of all us older employees!).

Wholesale swing changes? Nah – just a tweak in ball position. Think about that the next time you’re contemplating a major change in your business. Yes, that might be needed but isn’t starting with some simple changes much easier and cost-effective?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Symptoms, Diseases, And The Long Term

We’re into that time of the year when corporations are reporting their results for the last quarter. I tend to look at any single quarter’s results as a data point and since I’m a believer in watching things through the lens of the long-term, I mostly ignore anything strongly negative or positive unless it’s part of a long-term trend.

I’m sure it’s not a shock to any of you that the cable TV provider business is in a downward trend. I’ve written about this before and you might be one of the millions of folks who have cut their cable cord and gone pure streaming or supplement your streaming with an HD antenna to get your local TV over the air (everything old is new again!). Charter Communications is one of those cable TV providers who is watching their user base deteriorate. This last quarter, the company’s video customers sank by 150,000 subscribers, now totaling 15.8 million. At the same time, their Internet customers grew 221,000 to a total of 24.2 million, which also mirrors what’s going on elsewhere and the aforementioned trends. At the same time, these distributors are getting hit with increased costs for programming – what the cable networks charge the delivery guys to carry their programming (and in theory, the availability of which is why people pay for cable in the first place).

What the CEO said in making the results announcement, however, doesn’t mirror other CEO’s thinking and that’s what I want to highlight today:

Asked why the company doesn’t raise prices to cover increased programming costs, CEO Tom Rutledge said, “If you do a 10% programming price increase and lose 10% of your customers, you don’t really get anywhere and yet you’ve alienated a lot of people. In fact, that’s actually happening and has been happening. I expect continuous fighting for the foreseeable future.”

Mr. Rutledge gets it.  He is not confusing a symptom (customer loss amid increasing costs) with the disease (a rapidly changing business model reflecting consumer resentment at the high monthly out of pocket costs). Rasing prices would, in my opinion, accelerate the negative trend. It would stabilize earnings and make investors happy in the short term, but it’s not sustainable and would ultimately result in disaster.

More of us in business need to think that way. What’s a symptom and what’s the disease it reflects? What’s the right play for the long term even if it hurts in the short term? Does that make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Reality checks

Too Much Cabbage

I’m in South Florida this Foodie Friday celebrating my mom’s 90th birthday. While my mother is hardly a “foodie”, one food group that we both love is deli, and Jewish deli specifically. Living in North Carolina as I do has many wonderful food aspects but the availability of a good pastrami sandwich is NOT one of them. Because of that as well as my mom’s love of the genre, I’ve taken her (and my dad) out for lunch the last couple of days to get Jewish deli.

Yesterday I ordered a Reuben sandwich, having had my pastrami the day before. One thing really good deli is known for is overstuffed sandwiches. Even if you choose not to overeat and finish the thing, you always have something to bring home. The photo of the Reuben on the menu showed a typically large offering (the photo here is not the one from the menu since that’s probably copyrighted). What showed up reminded me of a great business point.

The photo isn’t my sandwich but it’s one from the same deli. As you can see, the Reuben was made by rolling the corned beef around the sauerkraut. The thing is served on toasted rye bread with Russian dressing. It’s hard to tell but when I picked the thing up it was immediately obvious that the bread was smaller than a typical loaf of rye which meant that there was less “there” there. More importantly, while rolling the meat around the sauerkraut like a meat and cabbage jelly roll was clever, it also meant quite a bit less meat was used in the sandwich. If you look closely at the photo you’ll see that unrolling the thing would yield about a half a dozen thin slices of corned beef, hardly something a proper deli would serve as an “overstuffed” sandwich. The meat in my sandwich didn’t fill the bread either – the roll stopped about halfway back on the bread. Most Reubens (or Rachels – a version of the sandwich made with pastrami) pile the sauerkraut on top of a stack of meat.  Is this presentation designed to hide the fact that there is far less meat than one would expect?

What does this have to do with your business? Customers do “unroll” the filling.  When they come up with too much cabbage and not enough meat they’ll find a competitor that really does deliver what they promise. I think overpromising and underdelivering is the biggest mistake any business can make. While this chain of delis does quite well (most of their other food is terrific and does deliver), they need to revisit the Reuben or delete the photo from the menu since it sets expectations that are not met. None of us can afford to do that, not if we want repeat business.

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Huh?