Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Real Economy

How many times have you seen negative headlines? They are the mantra we hear from the media virtually everyday. "High gas prices are expected to spark inflation and could drive this economy to a halt." "Consumers are doubting economic future." "The sky is falling." That last one was actually from Chicken Little, or Al Gore on the environment, or something like that. Any way, the news isn't good, but the economy keeps on chugging along at excellent levels.

The media may have an incentive for the economy to decline. According to most scholars who monitor journalists, the vast majority of those in media (approximately 80%) describe themselves as "liberal" or "very liberal." That percentage may be higher than the entire delegation to the Democratic National Convention from Massachusetts. If they keep saying it is bad long enough, and we believe it, people might vote their liberal friends to office. Stranger things have happened.

Also, when is the last time people bought a newspaper because of good news? "The Economy is Great" or "Everything is Fine" rarely catches a person's attention. Imagine the little kid with suspenders and cap running through the streets in an old black & white film with a newspaper, yelling "Extra, Extra, prosperity breaks out everywhere!" It should happen, but it rarely actually does, although we seem to celebrate the economy every day in the real world.

Speaking of the real world, the place most journalists don't appear to live in, but where I make a living, I find a very different economy.

I find more optimism about the future than any time in the last twenty years.

I find more employers hiring more employees than I have seen in years.

I am finding a record number of businesses expanding rather than laying people off.

In other words, I find a pretty solid economy. I prefer my economy and it seems more realistic than the one promoted by the media and I hope Americans don't drink the poisoned Kool-Aid the media is handing out. Let the media remain scared in an effort to sell newspapers or even change government. Let's you and I stay in the real world.

The inability of the media to stay in the real world has led to its massive decline. The heavily hierarchical media structure that drove information for decades (from the media down to the consumer) was overtaken by the surprising popularity of talk radio in the 80's and 90s (a forum where real people could express their views) and is being obliterated by the Internet which is now overwhelming being driven by the audience rather than the "media elite."

The next time you hear so-called "bad news" about the economy, take a positive step. Consider investing in something new, maybe contemplate the hiring of an employee, or see what you can do to add to this impressive economy noted for record growth. Let the journalists continue to live in their private little world, with its personal agendas, no matter how depressing it may be. But by all means, don't join them. Be real, like the economy.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Houston's Movers and Shakers

The most interesting part of my business is the people I get to meet. In the last couple of weeks I've dined with some movers and shakers in business, and had coffee with a local TV celebrity.

I am amazed at the depth of talent that is right here in the Houston area and I expect to see all of these people taking on a larger stage over time.

Ed Schipul is one of the leading authorities on Internet marketing both in Houston and around the country. He has seen his business grow exponentially over the last few years. I personally have seen his business grow both in reputation and in size. Recently, he and I had lunch in anticipation of a speaking event that both of our organizations are participating in. Ed is a combination of professor and kid with a new toy. He's the kind of teacher we all wish we had at school. Every time I meet with him, I regret that the length between meetings always seems so long. Ed knows it all and shared it liberally (though he never acts like a "know it all). Rarely does a sentence go by without him saying "Did you know..." and most of the time, I didn't. Furthermore he is always interested in helping people get together with others. He likes to make connections. He's generous with his relationships and that is why people are generous with him. We talked about Rupert Murdoch and his dramatic move towards the Internet (at the tune of $1.5 billion), which further validates the power of this media. (For a great article on this subject see the story about Murdoch in the latest Wired Magazine). He also told me about blogger program I need to review (you will see it soon, I'm sure), and we discussed the enormous growth of his Tendenci software which is changing the way organizations manage and promote their membership. Ed is a young man in a hurry. I am keeping an eye out for him in Wired Magazine or maybe even Forbes.

James Stein is one of the most enjoyable people I know in business and is the consummate small town banker with big city skills. I believe he can handle any deal of any size, but do it while making you feel like you are dealing with a friendly neighbor. Jim has a passion for politics and loves to discuss such, he loves his business and his clients. I have only had the opportunity to visit with him a few times, but he seems like an old friend. He's an incredible negotiator, making the difficult to receive, some how very acceptable. He is passionate about what he does and is one person who is doing exactly what he should be doing for a living, in my opinion. If you are looking for a banker, you would serve yourself well by visiting with James Stein and the Bank of Houston.

Darian Ward is well known by Houstonians as the former reporter and weekend anchor for Fox News. She is now working on a national reality TV show and we grabbed coffee recently at a local Starbucks. Ward is articulate, intelligent, and attractive. The networks would do well in bringing her to a larger audience. She is in negotiations with a number of large networks so don't be surprised to see her again on TV soon.

Philip O'Hara and John Holchin of DirectoryOne.com and I have been talking about a few projects that have resulted in several meetings. Like Schipul, DirectoryOne is a leader in web marketing and is ranked number one by the Houston Business Journal. Phil and John are two very different personalities. Phil is some what distracted and is always really for the next business meeting. He has a huge passion for what he does. John and Phil seem, on the outside, like oil and water, they are different in their politics, personalities, and styles. Yet, they seem like a perfect compliment to each other and their different style makes for a great team. That's one of the most important lessons I've learned in business, find the necessary people to help you get your business goals completed, regardless of how odd that team may appear to others.

In the weeks to come I'll be writing more about some of the personalities that make Houston such a great place to do business.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, July 14, 2006

First Time Shame on You...

We have all heard the saying, "first time shame on you, second time shame on me." Practicably, this simply means that if you deal with people who don't behave honestly or ethically the first time, you can blame them for it. However, if you do business with them again, you have to look in a mirror to find the one who is really guilty.

It is true that people need to be a little careful when it comes to such a philosophy. You want to believe that you could have caught someone on a bad day, or they were going through a "rough spot" professionally or personally, or several other reasonable conclusions. This desire to "forgive and forget" is even stronger when there is the potential of earning income. However, it is when the opportunity for making money exists with such people that you have to be the most cautious.

Recently I decided to take on a client who needed some media marketing for his business. I met with this individual before, around 6 months ago, and during those first encounters he played little games. He contacted me with great enthusiasm about doing business and then became MIA. We finally met after a few frustrating days and he decided he wasn't ready to do the marketing. I concured, he wasn't ready. For some reason, stupid me touched base with him and sure enough he was "ready" to proceed. The guy is very smart and articulate and presents himself well. The type of consulting I was going to do for him lent well to his image and personality. There was also money involved, of course. As I sat across the table from him my stomach was stirring. My mind was telling me that this wasn't in my best interest. But the desire to assume the best prevailed and I brought him on board. What a disaster.

He had the contract for less than two months and violated it on several points. There were some deadlines he was facing and in the last several weeks my assistants and I had been trying to locate him and was finally able to reach him thanks to using a phone he wouldn't identify on caller ID. This is, of course, the epitome of unprofessionalism. In the last few days of that search when I determined his status (and that I didn't want to do business with him further) I was furious. I had to check myself because I usually don't allow myself to get so emotional in business. I kept asking myself how I had gotten so upset. I finally figured it out. I knew the first time I encountered this guy that I shouldn't do business with him, but I went ahead any way because of wanting to give it a second shot. I wasn't nearly as mad at this person as I was at myself.

It is actually quite silly, too. In the time I spent pursuing him and having others do the same I could have obtained one or two contracts with other clients. Furthermore, the laws of reciprocity (doing unto others as you would have them do unto you) always work against people who behave such as this. In fact, the last person who conducted himself in this manner with me was out of business within two months of the incident (not a threat to those who do me wrong, just a reminder of how it goes in the world of business). Furthermore, this guy does business in Houston, which is the biggest small town in America. He won't be able to get away with such for long before everyone he wants to do business with is aware of his practices. It is just the way it is.

So the next time you are willing to overlook bad behavior in others, think of how angry you might be at yourself after you are mistreated.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ken Lay, RIP

Enron's Ken Lay's sudden death has some how shocked millions of Americans. Some are amazed because he's relatively young (early 60s), others are amazed that he is going to his grave without any jail time, others still are saddened that a man who apparently worked so hard for many years to have a great reputation well be remembered in such a negative way. There seems to be very little room for compassion, however, with a headline from CNNMoney Alert reading "The Guiltiest Guy in the Room: In the end Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling couldn't escape their own lies. And that's good for Corporate America." Wow, harsh.

People who have known Lay for years (I'm not one of them) still seem to have nothing but respect for him. I have sat across the table at lunch with an old golf buddy of his and his head will drop and he will begin to mumble. Like others who knew Lay with whom I visited, he said something like "Lay invested millions in the community," "many non-profits crashed and burned with Enron," and "he always seemed to be a good man in my dealings with him." These are just a few of the comments I've heard.

Ken Lay spent decades positioning himself as a leader and seemed to be focusing on building a legacy and not merely a reputation. However, in a few short months in the Fall of 2001, he went from having his name, company name, or picture on the wall of virtually every non-profit in the city to almost doing a magical transference to the front page of every scandal sheet in the country. This is not the kind of transformation that people want to experience.

Since that time the leadership in Enron has evolved from "the smartest guys in the room" (as they liked to project themselves) to the "guiltiest guys in the room" as we have seen so often in headlines. Their sympathizers might argue that Ken Lay was not really guilty and that a Presidential pardon even seemed likely (this has been mentioned often on talk shows). Lay, they argue, couldn't have been at fault in light of his personal history. I find this hard to believe. If this PhD in Economics wasn't the guiltiest guy in the room, he had certainly become the dumbest. His stupidity was so far reaching that he could be found guilty of several premeditated crimes.

The lesson for each of us is the old adage that it "takes years to build a great reputation and only minutes to destroy it." That might be the perfect epitaph for Lay's tombstone.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Relationship Capital

Recently I had Mr. D-Mars (www.d-mars.com) on my radio show talking about the history of his company and his unique business model. One of the things we both agreed on is the importance of relationships in business. One of my favorite people and a long time mentor, Mike Richards (currently Chairman of the International Bible Society and one time host of the Mike Richards Show on KSEV) use to say that business is driven by three things -- relationship, relationship, and relationship. Relationships is a continued part of my business mantra, so this conversation really resonated with me.

A great concept he discussed was the idea of "Relationship Capital." As soon as he said it, even without describing the phrase, I became extremely excited about it. What better way to truly assess the importance of maintaining and growing important relationships? Relationships are capital and leveraged properly, can make a business thrive and if mistreated, lucky to survive. How do we see Relationship Capital at work?

* Doing what you say you will do. No one forces you to commit, but when you do, stick to that commitment.

* Never talk about others negatively in a casual sort of way. The use of "negative information" should always be used discreetly and in order to make business decisions. Speaking about someone in a negative way casually will lead to being seen as untrustworthy by others. By the way, I believe it is dishonest for people to say "never say anything negative about others." Some times it is necessary in conducting business, but it should never be done without discretion. People want to know the credibility of those with whom they do business. That's reality.

* Don't lie. Mark Twain had it right. If you don't lie, you don't have to remember what you said, but if you do lie, others will always remember that for you.

* Always be clear in communication. Be specific about what you are going to do, create appropriate expectations, and keep people posted on your progress.

Abuse of that Capital will be seen in the form of failing to communicate, maintaining a negative attitude, and dishonesty. Protect your business by preserving your Relationship Capital.