I’ve been reading Mark Cuban’s book “How to win at the sport of business” which is a collection of his “Maverick” blogs. @mcuban is one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs, making his fortune in 1999 when Yahoo acquired Broadcast.com, for a dazzling $5.7bn in stock.
Mark shares some of his business rules, the first one being: “ask yourself how some other operator can put you out of business”. His second rule is equally territorial: “always run your business as if you are in competition with the big guys in your sector”.
It made me think about my own rules for business. I’ve never formalised them but after 30 years in business they’re now part of my DNA. Here they are:
- Be passionate. Without this there’s no vision, motivation, desire for high performance and excellence. Passion means you’ll get up early when it’s cold and dark to run that mile or meet that customer.
- Create value. The combined value added by colleagues and assets are part of the reason customers pitch up and, hopefully, return. That value needs to be upgraded over time and occasionally re-invented.
- Keep it simple. I’ve become re-united with my Amazon Kindle and admit to having been seduced by the simplicity of their buying process. It’s so simple that they include a button to reverse the transaction if you bought in error. Strangely very few companies manage to shake off complexity in favour of simplicity. I drive my family mad pointing out unnecessary complexity in our daily lives. I think I may need help!
- Customer first. For a while I was responsible for ensuring excellence at 14 plants in 9 countries. Quality, cost, delivery, safety and morale were all within my influence. Yet none of these significant assets would be required if the commercial side of the business had not engaged with new accounts and retained existing customers. It all starts with a sale and I don’t mind admitting it. Lots of good things follow on from this perspective.
- Cash is King. “Happiness is a positive cash flow.” “Profits are an opinion, cash is a fact.”“Revenue is vanity, margin sanity, cash is King.” Need I say more!
- Working model. Borders, Polaroid, Saab, MFI, Blockbusters and Oddbins are some of the (many) brands that failed recently. More than a shame when this happens. Their demise may not be entirely down to having the wrong business model. If we consider the speed of change just this century we cannot assume the business model and strategy which brought current success will apply in the future. Just how many products will those lovely people at Amazon be capable of shipping to our doorsteps this time next year? Will one of them be yours?
- Metrics matter. Vehicle dashboards provide all manner of status and performance information but the driver’s key responsibility is to navigate a safe, onward course. You don’t drive far with your eyes fixed on the rear view mirror. Yet some management teams seem content to operate their business using indicators which lag events, are ignored or, worse case scenario, encourage the wrong behaviour. Albert Einstein was reputed to have a sign on his wall that read: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” My sentiments exactly.
- Foundation of integrity. Call me naïve but I am of the opinion that the significant majority of people come to work to do a good job and give of their best. It’s difficult to argue that being honest, principled, fair, ethical and socially responsible are secondary business characteristics. As Warren Buffet stated: “Look for three qualities in a person you recruit; integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don’t have the first the other two will kill you.”
- Have fun. I also believe that people prefer to enjoy their working lives and the people with whom they work. Workplaces are not meant to be holiday camps and you don’t expect to have fun while supervising a nuclear plant. Surely we can build the potential for enjoyment into our working environments and relationships. It can’t be that difficult, can it?
- Innovate or die. Innovation is, in my opinion, the fundamental reason why Apple became the world’s most valuable company, albeit briefly. It’s the reason they have managed to be disruptive in so many areas and enables them to charge premium prices. Dyson is another wonderful example, taking the humble vacuum cleaner and turning it into a premium product on the basis its patented technology. If only we could be, in our business lives, a bit more like the Queen who responded to a doubtful Alice, “sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”