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Wasting Time

July 24, 2018

 I am a die-hard fan of The Profit, the TV program that showcases Marcus Lemonis’s attempts to rescue failing businesses.  His mantra – People, Process, Product – rings true and is proven over and over again.

 But I’d like to suggest he is neglecting another important element.  

 The show illustrates again and again that the biggest obstacle to snatching success from failure is change.  Business owners are unwilling and afraid to adopt the unfamiliar, the “new” approaches that Lemonis presents to them.  While the owner would be the first to agree that repeating the same process over and over and expecting a different result is the height of idiocy, he is too close to and comfortable with the status quo.  Those owners who – though skeptical – open their minds to a new vision, method, strategy, or idea are the stars of the winning episodes, the successful turnarounds. 

 Many successful Fortune 100 company chiefs “waste time” at conferences to hear other points of view.  Several admit they take notes on interviews of totally incompatible industry leaders (such as Fiat, Apple, JP Morgan, Timberland) to look for a nugget they might use.

 As consultants, before we can even ask a question, we often see an owner already formulating his excuse NOT to listen (or hear).  We understand.  Others may have offered to help and did not; they wasted time.  Besides, they really DON’T want to change anything – just to make/save more money. 

 A fellow-consultant was rebuffed by a business owner, his CPA, his VP, the HR chief, and was then stood up by the company CFO.  As he was leaving the aborted meeting, a secretary who overheard part of the reason for his visit, followed him to his car and asked if he would take time to talk to her boss.  She knew they had a problem and thought the visitor might have an answer.  She ushered him in to meet her boss:  the HR head who had ducked him.  The rest is history.  He helped them adopt a process that today saves thousands of dollars every month.  With that success, he introduced them to other ideas that have produced even more savings. 

 That company was lucky.  A plucky, aware, secretary helped the company capture dollars it didn’t know it was losing.  Luck shouldn’t be a requirement for exploring new ideas. 

 Despite the rumor that the US Patent Office was closing in 1899 because “everything has already been invented,” new ideas continue to crop up and patents are issued daily.  However, when it comes to People, Process, Product, its often not new ideas that matter, but the application of old ideas in a way not before envisioned or tried.

 Years ago, when my Wall Street Municipal Bond business was dead, I decided to call Corporate Treasurers to see if there was anything I could offer them.  Could they use tax-free (or other) securities?  Ideas?  Most were impregnable behind their Gatekeepers.  One, the Treasurer of the Crane Company, took my call.  As a result, we did [what was then] an enormous tax-swap trade. 

 Later, when I asked why he deigned to speak with me, he said, “Over the years, I have learned you never know where the next Good Idea will come from.  My secretaries are trained to assure me access to anyone or anything interesting.  You helped Crane save money that, had we not met, would have been lost.  Had I not been willing to waste a few minutes, who knows?”  I am forever grateful to “Johnny” Henshaw for being so open-minded and willing to listen to a young salesman.

 Maybe Marcus Lemonis should add “Open-Mindedness” to his three-P prescription.  Surely, it is just as essential.

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