Business / Business Ethics / Leadership / Quotes / Wisdom

12 Business Lessons from the Grave

Lens Flare

So, let me tell you about one of the greatest business people I have ever met, and share with you some of his greatest quotes that have invaluable business and life lessons. Sadly, he passed away last week, but “his” guidance and wisdom have touched many.

First let me tell you about “him”.

“He” started his business life, like many natural young salesmen, in liquor sales, just around the Chicagoland area. Immediately seeing there was an established market for only moderate advancement, he looked for something that is constantly changing, with room for not only advancement but growth. He found it, something that is always changing…in fashion costume jewellery.

Starting as a stock “boy”, sweeping and mopping floors, “he” wanted to learn every position in the company. The golden “ring” was to one day buy the 65-year old wholesaling company. Nothing was off ‘his” list to-learn; from packing and shipping boxes, to tagging rings for retail sales. “He” knew that if he were to be successful, that the guy in charge had to be able to do everything as well if not better than the people who were hired to do it. After many years “he” rose through the ranks, building the wholesaler to an international supplier of Costume Jewellery. They supplied from the local drug store (albeit…the 500-store chain of Osco Drugs) in the U.S., to fine retailers like Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and Marshall Fields. In 1975, seeing the opportunity, he utilized his firm to be one of the first capitalize and market the Mood-Ring and later the Pet Rock. Building the business over 30 years, “He” finally bought the firm and shortly after, sold it for a many time multiple from his original investment. He was officially a multi-millionaire.

“He” would continue that search for the rest of his life for new and innovative ideas from untapped sources. This included an entity before “Grub hub”; seeing an untapped need by consumers to order food from multiple locations on one call and simultaneously helping restaurants expand capacity beyond their fixed location without an increase in capital expenditure.

“He” was my father.

So on to his famous quotes, that were drilled into me time after time again. Some resonating immediately, some only after an event. Regardless, I feel these are priceless and applicable to every person in any business:

1) “No one ever promised that life was fair”.

Knowing this going in will probably save you some aggravation later. Life isn’t fair, and everyone has agendas from different reference points. Realizing this on “the way in” will make you more effective and show less weakness in crisis situations.

2) “The World does NOT owe you a living”

This was most pounded into me during my first 5 years out of University. Young graduates (whether they admit it or not) do think they are entitled because they spent 4-5 years in school. Unless you are a physician or something similar, we all know that the real work (and education) starts after graduation. They don’t realize that if they are going to be paid $80,000-$120,000 a year…they’d better be worth twice that.

3) “Necessity is the “Mother of Invention”

What might not seem optimal or traditional choices in certain situations in business, we sometimes do things that are for the good of the outcome. When presented, as in any situation, risks should be evaluated with their associated pitfalls, but if it saves time and money it is sometimes worth it. Think “outside the box”.

4) “A ship is only as good as its Captain”

This is the basis of my company, Grace Century. We have looked at 100’s of projects over the years, with a concentrated bias towards the person at the wheel. This is usually our deciding factor, as we have seen hundreds of incredible ideas, but few have the skill sets to drive these “ideas” to profitability and make real businesses out of them.

5) “Punch holes in the boat and if it still floats…you probably have something.”

Every time I had a business idea, I presented this idea to my Father. I soon learned to brace myself for a tsunami of critical questions asking me about every nook and cranny. I would say can’t you just say, “wow what a cool idea”. He stressed to me he wasn’t being critical or non-supportive, just every idea has issues…and if you can identify these before you won’t be blindsided later. If they can be overcome, great. If the idea still made sense even after potential problems were identified…even better. This usually was a great process with the exception noted in one of my previous blogs: You don’t have to be Superman.

6) “You can’t be everything to everybody”

Businesses must define their business. Every company has opportunities that come along, that might seem like a good idea, but they might be on the fringes of their core. These undoubtedly can take the focus away from the core business, and dilute valuable resources of time and money. When my father took over the jewellery operations, he noticed that every request from every salesperson were being stocked in inventory, regardless of volume. This meant money tied up in non-moving inventory, dead shelf space in the warehouse, and capital being used to a less than optimal level. That lasted about one day (with some upset salesmen).

7) “It’s not yours until you cash out (associated with better than a “stick in your eye”)”

As traders, we are always proud of what we have correctly achieved…on paper! Just remember, to spend it you must liquidate it…and its not yours until you do so.

8) “Pay what the position is worth”

I used to complain that with all my experience, I wasn’t getting paid a fair amount. His reply was “you can have the president of the U.S. empty garbage cans…but that position only pays $8/hr.” I won’t send you back to lesson #1.

9) “You can’t turn a dog into a cat” (associated with scorpion and the frog story)”

People are sometimes, who people are. Knowing the background of someone will help you make invaluable decisions. Likewise, especially in sales, it is not one size fits all.

10) “Bulls make money, Bears make money, pigs get slaughtered”

The idea, whether in business, trading, investing, or speculation is to make money. You will never sell the top or buy the bottom (well, maybe by accident or possibly in reverse…and buy the top!). Being greedy usually doesn’t turn out well in any circumstance.

11) “A good business deal is good for both sides’’

A good deal is when both parties benefit. Too good of a deal usually makes the other party feel taken advantage of. It usually doesn’t end well.

12) “If I don’t fly First Class…my children will!”

Not really a lesson, but he did. I am content in Business!

Hope these made sense, and you find value. See you on the other side, Dad. Give Hugh Hefner a run for his money.

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