Monday, June 22, 2009

Jon and Kate: What Ever Happened To Hard Work?

I went to college (MIZZOU) some 20 years ago with Brad Pitt. Now, even though we were both in the Journalism School, I didn't know him (please girls, don't call me I can't help you meet him). Pitt left MIZZOU, with very little money, his senior year and moved to California because he wanted to be a star. In the late 80s, becoming a big-time Hollywood star meant you moved to Los Angeles with very little money, waited tables at night, went to countless auditions every day and went to acting class. It was hard work, and it took a lot of dedication and perseverance. But, for those who persevered, like Pitt, the rewards were endless. It was called working hard to become a star.

This brings me to Jon and Kate, the current reality stars we hear so much about. Today, people don't move to L.A. and work hard and learn a craft to be famous. No, that's too hard. Today, would-be stars act outrageous, try to get on American Idol, Survivor or another reality show, or find a good fertility doctor.

Why work hard when a fertility doctor can get you on screen much more quickly? I guess it's part of the instant gratification we see in society today.

Jon and Kate received massive amounts of money, opportunities for book deals, a tummy tuck for her, hair implants for him, homes, etc. They are bona fide stars.

But did they really earn those things?

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why Government Motors (GM) Won't Work

As a parent I've learned that the most difficult, and at times most unpopular, decisions are often the ones that are in my children's best interests in the long term. They don't notice it now, but they probably will 15 years from now.

The same is the case for businesses. Difficult decisions today (layoffs, budget cuts, diversification) may be the best decisions for the future of the company. Even though these decisions might be unpopular today, they may mean the company exists 10 years from now.

That is precisely the reason Government Motors, the new GM, won't work. Politicians don't care about long-term, they care about popular opinion and making voters happy.

This is already happening at Government Motors. Here's a great example.

GM recently announced a decision to close a parts-distribution center in Norton, Mass. The reasoning seemed sound. The company is bleeding money and parts weren't really flowing from the distribution centers. So, consolidating the centers would help save costs.

The problem: The Norton, Mass., distribution center happened to be in Congressman Barney Frank's district. Frank chairs the Financial Services Committee, which is important to GM now that the Government will soon own 60% of the firm.

Frank called GM's CEO and guess what? The parts plant will not be closed after all.

Difficult decisions must be made to save struggling companies. Politicians cannot make those decisions. Can you imagine politicians setting interest rates? Rates would be 0% (and inflation would be through the roof). What politician would have the guts to raise interest rates. They can't even suggest tax increases.

Frank says his decision to intervene in the situation had nothing to do with the parts plant being in his district. (Surprise, surprise). Frank said he intervened because closing the plant meant parts would now be trucked across the country, which means increasing our global warming problems even more. He actually made the decision in order to help save our planet. (I guess this means GM can't close any of the parts plants.)

Now, GM must figure out a way to cut costs and make all the politicians happy so they can be elected next cycle.

Decisions made for a company based on anything but the best long-term interests of the company just won't work.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Important Question: What Business Are You In?

I had lunch the other day with one of my mentors and I began telling him about some of the diversification plans for SBM. He stopped me at one point, with a very direct question: "What Business Are You In?"

Can you answer that question in your business? Years ago Hertz Corporation asked this question and realized that the firm was not in the "rental car" business, but rather the "get people out of the airport as fast as possible," business. This discovery changed the way the executives and employees made decisions. It spawned a Hertz Club where members no longer had to wait for vehicles, a huge success for the company at the time.

So, what business are you really in? When you discover the answer, every decision you make should meet this objective.

For SBM, we're not a "publication," or a "newspaper." We're in the business of "Educating and Promoting Small Businesses." After some reflection, I realized some of my diversification ideas didn't really meet this goal.

What Business Are You In?

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Diversification: Riches In Niches

Every company is looking for ways to diversify and gain some new revenue streams, especially in this economy.

One warning: Take your time and find the right solution. Remember: there are riches in niches. Don't leave your niche behind trying to find the holy grail of income.

Years ago Hardee's decided to diversify and serve fried chicken. The chicken was excellent and soon the stores were packed with patrons buying chicken. The only problem: Hardee's didn't have the capacity to serve large amounts of chicken. Soon, patrons were waiting 30 minutes for chicken. That didn't last long, as you can imagine.

It didn't take long before customers, angry they had to wait 30 minutes for chicken, stopped coming not only for chicken but for the restaurant's niche: burgers.

Wisely, Hardee's abandoned the chicken concept and once again focused on its niche: burgers. The chain learned a valuable lesson about diversification. Today, even as chains strive for healthier menu choices, Hardee's continues to focus on its niche: burgers.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, June 15, 2009

Phil Jackson: A True Leader Wins Again

L.A. Lakers basketball coach Phil Jackson just led his current team to an NBA title. It will make the 10th NBA title for Jackson.

It's no wonder he's won 10 titles. You can tell he's a leader just by watching him on the sidelines. Unlike most coaches in the NBA, Jackson doesn't stand all game screaming at his players. He sits quietly, almost like he's at church. (He's a believer that yelling at someone in heat of a game will not improve his or her performance. Instead, he opts to talk about game situations and offer advice during halftime or timeouts when competitive emotions have settled down.)

Even the world's most coddled, self-centered athletes (basketball players) respect him because he treats them like human beings. (He even passes out books to players on road trips. Yes, Dennis Rodman actually read a few of them.) He gives his players responsibility and a say in game stratagies.

As leaders of our businesses, we can take away many lessons from Coach Jackson.

--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, June 11, 2009

New GM CEO: Does Car Experience Matter?

It seems the new head of GM (Government Motors) is making a bit of a splash. Edward Whitacre Jr., the new head honcho is taking heat because he has no (nada, zero) experience in the auto industry. Now that the tax payers own a majority of the auto maker, some seem a bit concerned Whitacre might not be the man to turn the troubled company around.
I think that's a bunch of BS. The new leader SHOULD NOT have any auto experience. GM needs someone with some fresh ideas and new energy, not someone stuck in the past. (By the way, this isn't Whitacre's first rodeo. He led AT&T for more than 43 years.)
Think about your own business. You get so caught up in what used to work, who used to do what, how things have always been done, etc., you get paralyzed. At the end of the day you can't see the forest through the trees and you don't even realize it.
GM needs a new focus and energy. Someone from the outside that can bring a fresh perspective. The ONLY way to get that is to look outside the industry. It's time for a change in the way auto makers do business. That change can only come from outside the industry.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Monday, June 8, 2009

Social Networking: Will It Really Help Your Business?

After the Super Bowl in February, ESPN interviewed the Pittsburgh Steeler coach after the team's last-minute victory. The reporter asked the coach about the victory. "It all comes down to blocking and tackling," the coach said. "You can implement all the strategy and systems you want, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to blocking and tackling."
The Steelers were one of the few teams that didn't rush out and implement the trends of the day, the "West Coast" offense, the "Four Receiver" format, the "Wild Cat" offense, etc. They stuck with the basics.
How about your business? Are you sticking to the basics and fundamentals that will guarantee business.
I see a lot of business owners, especially sole proprietors, spending a large amount of time on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. I know all the consultants are telling you to get on board or else, and playing on these social sites is certainly fun. But stop and think for a minute. As a sole proprietor, you only have so many hours of the day. Your focus should be on getting your message out to qualified prospects.
I've got a strange feeling that one of your competitors can do a better job of reaching qualified prospects with a phone book, a phone and a few cold calls. There is only so much time in the day. It boils down to blocking and tackling. Just make sure that's what you are doing.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Jennifer Pautler Deserves Trophy, Award (Something)

Jennifer Pautler deserves a trophy, blue ribbon, award, your sympathy, etc. Her name was Jennifer Pautler back in 1991 (she may be married and it may have changed by now). She was my first boss in the news business back in 1991 when the two of us were the editorial department at the Farmington Press-Leader, a two-day a week newspaper in Farmington, Mo.
I thought of Jennifer the other day when one of my employees was down in the dumps over a mistake he made in one of our magazines. He was reading a blog about "the biggest mistakes ever " to make himself feel a bit better. I took the opportunity to explain to him some of my biggest bloopers. It was a long conversation.
My biggest happened in Farmington when I wrote a hard-hitting story about gun control legislation. The legislation was called the Brady Bill, named after James Brady, who was shot during President Ronald Reagan's assassination attempt in 1981. Like most of my news stories back then, it sucked. (At least I was consistent. Some readers of this blog might be thinking some things never change.) Readers expected that, so that wasn't my blooper. For some reason, I referred to the legislation as the Baker Bill (Jim Baker is the former Secretary of State). I didn't just make this mistake once. I called it the Baker bill during the entire article and the headline. Even though only 10 people actually read the paper, all 10 called to yell, laugh and ridicule.
It was brutal. When you work for a paper that publishes just twice a week and you make a front page blunder, the worst part is seeing it over and over and over. Go to the grocery store, there it is. Walk the dog, there it is sitting on lawns (calling your name: "Ron, you idiot.")
That was one of many. I won't even get into the "7 Dwarfs" column, my commentary on the 7-member local school board.
Looking back on my early mistakes, I don't think I would change a thing. You have to make those mistakes to learn and grow. Even though I've made many mistakes since (and more to come), I learn from each mistake. I'm much more supportive of my own employees when they makes mistakes. I'll always remember Farmington.
Now back to Jennifer. She took the heat for many of my mistakes in Farmington. Even though she graduated just six months before me, she gracefully took the heat time and time again.
She once told me I was "not coachable." Who? Me?
The bad part about the Farmington experience is that I was so bad that I think I drove her out of the business. She quit her job, left journalism and headed back to school and pursue a teaching certificate. A few months of supervising me and that was it.
If anyone ever runs into Jennifer, pat her on the back for me and let her know you are sorry she had to deal with me. And if you read this Jennifer, realize that payback is hell. I'm now dealing with my Mini-Me's everyday.
--Ron Ameln, SBM

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Is Your Reality Clouded?

A friend of mine coaches high school soccer. His job is to put the best team on the field as possible, regardless.
When it comes to judging the talent of these high school athletes, can you guess who the worst judge of talent is? Their parents. According to my friend, the parents just can't see that junior can't run as fast or kick the ball as far as his other team members. And who can blame them. They are the parents. They love these kids unconditionally. They see things in their children others don't.
What is so ironic about this is that the parents are clueless. They really think Junior is the best player on the team. Saying anything to the contrary elicits anger. They really think they are looking at this in an unbiased fashion.
Keep this in mind when you are staffing your company and searching for the best team members. Maybe your kids aren't the best team members. Maybe you're not really seeing reality. This also goes for friends, Uncles, Cousins, that guy that saved your life back in the second grade, etc.
Be careful not to put yourself in a position to see a clouded reality. Don't say it won't be me. Yes, it will be you. Maybe there is no hope for soccer Moms and Dads, but if your job is to put the best team on the field for your company, this is something you can avoid. If you don't, you (and the other players on your team) may regret it later.
--Ron Ameln, SBM