Let them know you're on their side.

Small Giants

I had the pleasure recently of spending a couple hours with Bo Burlingham, the former editor of Inc. Magazine and author of Small Giants (amongst several other great books). This book shows how some very unique and successful companies have found something much more fulfilling in being great rather than big. It’s a wonderful collection of stories about a handful of entrepreneurs who created meaningful companies that deeply care about their customers and employees.

One of my favorite stories is about Danny Myers, the New York restauranteur… “He doesn’t deny the importance of traditional customer service, but he regards it as a set of technical skills. In a restaurant, he says, service involves such practices as taking the order promptly; having food arrive while while it’s still hot; and yes, cleaning up quickly when a tray of water glasses spills. You can teach people to do all of those things, and do them well. Enlightened hospitality on the other hand, is an emotional skill involving the ability to make customers feel that you’re on their side. That’s the mantra of Meyer’s restaurant staff: Let them know you’re on their side.” Danny wrote a great book, Setting the Table, that I talked about in this post.

In a World where most of us entrepreneurs are motivated by a more-is-more mentality, I always find it invigorating to hear stories about folks who are going for something different. Some deeper connection. Great read for those entrepreneurs who are building for life rather than building to flip.

Bo is finishing up a book about having graceful exists. Which addresses what life-long entrepreneurs are doing to exit their companies so what they created can be preserved/sustained.  Some do it too soon, thinking they would like retirement, others don’t hand it off to the wrong new owners, and many figure out elegant ESOP options. Regardless, I love the thinking… beyond the life of the entrepreneur.

In fact, Bo taught me a new word and a new way of thinking as a result. In Europe there are still companies that have stayed in the same family for hundreds of years. Bo says its because of “primogeniture”, which is the passing of businesses to the first born (usually son) in each family. I find it fascinating that it has worked so well in preserving companies.

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