Anti-CEO Playbook Challenges 3 Business “Rules”

Based on an article originally published July 24, 2019

We’ve all heard stories of impoverished immigrants who came to the U. S. and prospered through hard work and perseverance.  

Sometimes unique business ideas have been part of the recipe as well. Here’s an example of that. 

Jessica Stillman relates a great story of a Turkish sheep farmer who came to the U.S. about 20 years ago.  

Hamdi Ulukaya came from a family of yogurt makers. He saw an ad for a yogurt factory for sale cheap. He borrowed money and bought it just as the aging owner had ordered it to be closed. 

Ulukaya had some ideas that he terms the “Anti-CEO Playbook”. He brings his concepts to life in a 17-minute TED talk which is linked in Stillman’s article. I think the entire saga is well worth listening to.  

Strapped for time and want to invest less of it in this story?  You can start the video at the 6:30 time and hear the most inspiring part of the story. For those who opt for that, I’ll summarize the “preamble” a little further along.  

He debunks a few ideas that have become accepted business advice:

  • Maximize stockholder value? How about the employees?
  • CEO responsible to the Board? How about the customers?
  • Incentives from the community? He sees it the other way around.

He’s all about cutting out middlemen and getting incentives and gratitude in the right place. 

The following sets the stage for the balance of Ulukaya’s talk in case you choose to start in the middle. 

The yogurt plant was on a dead-end road and was in terrible run-down condition. The 55 employees were still there, working only to shut the place down. Ulukaya detected a spirit among the employees that energized him. He describes the culture of the company as a “time machine”. 

He kept four of the key people and said to them, “First thing we’re going to do is go the local Ace Hardware store and buy some paint. We’ll paint the outside walls white.”  

Of course the employees wondered at this priority, but complied. 

That’s where the story of Chobani Yogurt gets interesting. Listen, as Paul Harvey used to say, to “the rest of the story”. Start at the 6:30 interval in the TED talk video at the end of the article

Why do Companies Complicate their Customers’ Lives?

Based on an article originally published March 3, 2018

When you call a company’s customer service number or, worse, their sales line, how do you like it if you have to go through multiple automated menus and then wait on hold for ten minutes or longer? Does it encourage you to do more business with them? How do you feel about recommending such a company to a friend?

Ever since automatic answering systems became the norm, it’s been a mystery to me why companies who should know better put their customers through this.

Strangely, some of the worst offenders are “communication” companies, such as Verizon. Long automated phone menus and long waits on hold are hardly parts of good communication. This is a large part of the reason I departed Verizon’s service last summer. It’s all part of the subject of customer friction, which is our topic this week.

How to Give Your Customers the Best Experience

Constant Contact, who publishes my newsletter, where this article originally appeared, is certainly one of the better known email managers. They came recommended to me when I needed such a service.

As a notably un-savvy guy technically, I often run into technical issues that are “above my pay grade”.

When I call Constant Contact, there’s a brief menu of a few items to choose the subject of my call. Fortunately for me (and most likely by design, since it’s probably the reason for most calls), the first choice is “email marketing”. Then it’s rarely more than 15 seconds before I have a person on the line who can help me, and they almost always do so expeditiously.

This week Josh Linkner, serial entrepreneur and professor, addresses customer friction. Friction happens every time a customer has to click something, sign something (especially multiple times!) meet with somebody, or endure any other impediment to smooth flow. Certainly it’s true that many purchases necessarily require choices to be made (model, color, size, special features, etc.). Some parts of this process may actually be enjoyable (and can be made more so, if handled properly). Others are necessary and not so pleasant. Here’s where it’s worthwhile studying, experimenting, and tweaking the process to streamline it every bit as much as possible.

You can bet your competitors are streamlining their processes. Your improvements in customer-friendliness can make the difference between a prospect choosing you or one of your competitors!

One of the efforts to mitigate the long phone waits has recently become, “Leave your number and we’ll call you back between 38 and 54 minutes from now”. In my view, if waits have routinely become so long that this is necessary, you should make more people available! The companies who use such systems seem to employ them most of the time, so more people would not be idle much, and think how much happier their customers would be!

Friction is what’s missing at Constant Contact. You may be sure that, impatient sort that I am, If I had to go through 2 or 3 levels of complex menus when I called, and then wait several minutes on hold before I talked with someone, I’d long ago have looked for an alternate service. No doubt other companies do a good job, perhaps some as good as Constant Contact. Since they’ve provided such a satisfactory experience for me, I’ve found no occasion to sample the others.

This is how good business is done.

Opinions are Like an Obscure Spot in Your Anatomy

Everybody has one. Few are interested in yours.

I hope you’re finding constructive ways of accommodating the changes forced on us in these crazy times. Remember that every cloud has a silver lining. When you;re handed a lemon, make lemonade. Here’s a more complete reminder of that mindset from a few issues ago.

Last week, I had pretty well decided that today’s The Unity Community would be about opinions.

With perfect timing, Minda Zetlin sent me this on Thursday. I’m often amazed by the timely and unexpected appearance of something that exactly fits current needs.

We all have opinions about many things in life. Other people’s behaviors, lifestyles and traits often generate opinions. Or religion or politics may be your favorite. Many people offer their opinions In ways that are unwelcome to others. To improve the chances your opinion will be received positively, try these tips.

  • State clearly that “this is my opinion”, not “fact”. This makes it clear that others’ opinions have validity for you. That you’re open to hearing them. If you give the impression you’re not interested in others’ opinions, they won’t be interested in yours.
  • Be sure you state your opinion only where it fits into the conversation. (E.g., a comment about politics rarely has a place in a conversation about dietary concerns.)
  • Never demand that others agree with your opinion. Dale Carnegie famously reminded us, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”. You’re unlikely to convince anyone of your opinion. In addition, you make yourself unpopular at the same time.
  • If someone makes it clear they’re not interested in your opinion, keep it to yourself. In that case, stating your opinion is sure to make you a pariah. Also your opinion has “0” chance of being seriously considered.

As Minda points out, your opinion of others’ habits, traits or lifestyles can label you. You may be OK with that. If you aren’t, you should probably keep still.

Throwing opinions around carelessly is a habit of some people. As with any habit, changing it requires practice. If this is you, know that you will slip up sometimes. Remind yourself regularly to adjust your delivery of opinions if you want them received positively.

Hope this helps you or someone you know find better ways of offering your opinions. Or, maybe not offering them, depending on circumstances.

How do You Feel, Facing a New Challenge?

Do you delight in heaping praise on your kids for how smart they are? Or how talented?

If you solve a puzzle, do you look for a tougher challenge, a more difficult puzzle?

Do you believe your, or someone else’s, personality is what you, or they, were born with? This was our topic a couple of weeks ago.

Have you noticed athletes whose mistakes crush them? Who can’t get “back in the game” quickly?

Recently I was introduced to the book, Mindset – The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck.

Dweck’s premise is that some people have “fixed” mindsets. Others have “growth” mindsets. Which are you? In reality, most people have a mix, but lean mostly one way or the other. We’re likely to have one mindset sometimes, and the other one other times.

As a primary school teacher, and a tireless researcher, Dweck has studied these differences most of her life.

When you hear statements like:

  • I’m no good with technology
  • I can’t learn French, or Spanish
  • I can’t drive a car with a manual transmission

You’re hearing the result of a fixed mindset, one that believes they have, or don’t have, a certain talent.

When you hear:

  • With some research, and maybe a class, I’ll figure out technology to the extent that I need it.
  • I’m anxious to dig into a language that will be useful, or interesting, to me.
  • Can you help me learn to drive a car with a clutch?

You’re hearing someone with a growth mindset.

The good news is, you’re not “stuck” with one or the other. Dweck reports that her own mindset has evolved from fixed in her childhood to growth as she matured. And of course as she studied mindsets.

In grasping these ideas it’s important to first understand the basics. You’ll need a solid understanding of some terms she uses, and her fundamental concept. After you’ve accomplished that, a couple of chapters stand out for me. These chapters highlight situations where the concepts are easy to see in action.

  • In chapter 3 she discusses the importance of a growth mindset in parents and teachers of young children. Kids, with their young absorptive minds, take signals from what adults say to them. If they’re scolded when they make a mistake, they learn quickly not to make mistakes. Of course this means, “don’t take on anything too difficult”. What if they’re praised for their talents – how easily they did something? They learn that quick performance is better than working hard to learn something difficult.
  • In chapter 7, we learn the results of the two mindsets in coaches of sports teams. She describes three well-known college basketball coaches, All had moments of success.
    • Bobby Knight of the Indiana Hoosiers won a lot of championships. His success was sporadic.
    • John Wooden led the UCLA Bruins from a 3rd-rate status to 10 championships in 12 years. He was arguably the “winningest” NCAA coach ever.
    • Pat Summitt coached the Tennessee Lady Vols. She started with a Bobby Knight (explosive, inconsistent) style. She evolved into recognizing losses as learning opportunities.
  • I’m sure you can see, even without reading more detail, where the fixed and growth mindsets were.
  • In chapter 7 she also discusses “false” growth mindsets. She covers a couple of misunderstandings about what is a growth mindset.

I leave you with that much introduction and summary of Carol Dweck’s great work. For me it’s a unique examination of the ingredients of real success. I hope you find it equally compelling.

Entrepreneur? Or Just Another Business Person?

(Published in The Unity Community newsletter in January 2019)


Norm Brodsky
, who writes a regular column in Inc. magazine, has a very interesting story for us for this issue

He and his wife stopped by a store where Linda Pagan manufactures and sells ladies’ hats. 

Linda makes some very broad-brimmed hats that many people like for outdoor events. Since she includes boxes with all her hats, she needs larger than normal boxes for these hats. 

She took the “bull by the horns” and helped her box supplier develop the capacity  to produce these outsized boxes. The supplier hadn’t identified the market for such hat boxes. She did, and stepped up to make it happen, with benefit to herself and other marketers, the box supplier, and the customers.

This is the way business should be done – win-win-win! It’s how a market economy generates wealth. 

Through cooperative effort, everybody benefits. Linda, the box supplier and other milliners earn a profit by selling their wares for more than it costs to make them. The customers get the hats worth more to them than the money they pay for them.

So here’s the difference between an entrepreneur and another business person. Many people start a “business” which is really just a job for them. They don’t answer to a boss per se (except their customer), but they’re selling what others sell, with few if any unique features.

Those who identify and fill a gap, or space for a product or service that nobody is offering, are entrepreneurs. Others compete with existing suppliers without offering anything new. They must compete on price, delivery time, or other mundane features of their product or service. They have much more competition than the entrepreneur does.

Enjoy Norm’s story about entrepreneur Linda Pagan. This insight may be useful to better understand and explain the difference between entrepreneurs and other business people.

What Will Help You Most to Navigate Hard Times?

This month seems to be developing into a time of philosophical exploration. Last week we discussed Wayne Dyer’s wise life improvement suggestions. This week, I go  back a little further in history (about 700 years!) for for some Persian wisdom on life.

Yalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, better known simply as Rumi, was a 13th-century Persian poet, faqih, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic.

Nikos, who has commented on several of my articles, recently sent me 75 Rumi quotes. Most of them are worthy of thoughtful note. In the list, every 10th one is highlighted. There are many nuggets of wisdom in the entire list. For different people, different ones will have the biggest impact. I won’t try to select for you.

All of this advice, no matter the source, essentially comes down to positive mindset. Travel restrictions, wild stock market fluctuations, etc., can lead one to think negatively. We have no control over those things. One thing we can always control is our mindset. Keeping a positive mindset helps us through the toughest of times. In a positive mindset we are much more effective at addressing what we can control.

Napoleon Hill famously said, “Fear and faith can’t co-exist.” Have faith that you can produce the results you want, and set fear aside.

Be positive and grateful.

Music Often Reflects Business

Like much entertainment, music often reflects the realities of life and business. 


This week, we check in with Mark Oldman, entrepreneur, Inc. contributor, and author. He finds many parallels between the lyrics of Neil Peart’s Rush band and the company he co-founded, Vault.com.


As many of you know, Peart died last month. Oldman has been a loyal follower of Neil Peart and Rush for many years. His recent article is a tribute to the ideas reflected in Rush’s songs. It also catalogs many of the lessons he’s learned in business. You’ll find parallels to Ami Kassar’s experience, which we discussed here.


What makes a song popular? It’s usually its reflection of realities in life and/or business.


The lessons Mark relates to Rush’s lyrics are:

1. “Resist safety”.

2. Pursue your passion.

3. Choose complementary co-founders.

4. Progress is incremental.

5. Say no.

6. Prepare to pivot.

7. Assume control.

Oldman selects a passage from one of Rush’s songs to illustrate each principle. Common themes for them are:

  • Control your destiny.
  • Find what excites you – and focus on it.
  • Pay attention to what the market is telling you, and be prepared to react. The best reaction may be saying no to an apparent opportunity (shiny object).

Enjoy Mark’s comparisons between Neil Peart’s music and the realities of business.

Thinking of Starting a Company?

What makes an entrepreneur successful?


Of course that question could have about a million answers! 


One might also ask, “What makes an entrepreneur fail?” Again, many possible answers.


Ami Kassar started his company, MultiFunding, 10 years ago. He’s endured and persevered through the usual ups and downs in a start-up company. Here he describes ten of what he considers the most important lessons he’s learned. In his bio, it’s mentioned that he’s written a book. Strangely, the title of the book is omitted from the bio. It’s The Growth Dilemma. Of course, it’s available on Amazon.


Many of these lessons we’ve discussed here over the years. I’ll comment on a few of them.

6. Live your values — and build a team that shares them.
7. Love what you do — or it’s not worth it.

For me, these two concepts are centrally important for business…and for life in general.If you’re doing something that misaligns with who you are and your core beliefs, you’re being inauthentic. Being inauthentic is always a recipe for trouble.Of course there will be chores you find unpleasant. Sometimes you can delegate those chores to someone who enjoys doing them, and does them well. Often you just have to bite the bullet and do a job you don’t enjoy. As the leader, you often have to say, “The buck stops here”.Find satisfaction and joy in the result you’re producing. That’s the key concept here. Usually that means, among other things, that you’re bringing someone great value.


1. Join a peer group.
8. Keep mentors close.


These two together remind us that asking for and accepting help and advice is important. Trying to do any new thing without that is far more difficult than it needs to be. And…as has often been said, it’s “lonely at the top”. A supportive person to talk with can be just what you need when the going gets tough.Everyone needs a coach! Scroll down to the middle of that page to skip all the extra stuff I was then including!


2. Don’t be a jerk.
10. Transparency wins the day.


Treating people the way you want to be treated is important. This includes customers, employees, suppliers, and others. And remember to think about how they want to be treated. In some cases it may be different from how you want to be treated.


9. Celebrate victories along the way.


In any endeavor, it’s valuable to congratulate yourself on your wins. Learn from your losses but don’t dwell on them.


Kassar fleshes out these ideas, and a few others, from his own personal journey. Enjoy!

Why Would You Stop Selling a Lucrative Product?

As I contemplated the strong response last week’s issue generated, I explored more of Simon Sinek‘s work.


Here’s a story of CVS, the big pharmacy company, eliminating tobacco sales. The hit to revenue would be $4 billion per year. A smart move? The financial pundits didn’t think so. They look at monthly or quarterly numbers as finite outcomes.
Sinek suggests that business, and life, are infinite games.


CVS’ motto was, “Helping people on their path to better health.” How does that fit with selling cigarettes? Their leaders decided it didn’t!


CVS’ earnings per share dropped initially by almost 10%. A year later, EPS had increased by 70% from just before they announced their decision.


Business decisions that align with one’s purpose work! Business is an infinite game! What happens next month, next quarter, next year, matters less than what happens in the longer term.

All around us are examples of people or companies winning by making courageous decisions. Examples:

  • CVS’ decision to stop selling tobacco – 70% improvement in EPS.
  • Our colonial forefathers’ switch from communal production to an individual incentive system. The flagging economy came to life!
  • Chobani Yogurt’s immigrant CEO challenged established business rules. A failed yogurt producer saved! (Here’s that story).
  • W.L. Gore (maker of Gore-Tex) operates with no assigned managers (Read about that here).

Uncourageous short-sighted decisions, with disastrous results, are also legend:

  • VW doctoring emissions test results. Very expensive, CEO fired!
  • Boeing rushing the 737X to market, short cutting pilot training requirements. The jury’s still out on that one – it could kill the company.
  • Theranos’ “Ponzi” scheme (Here’s Wikipedia’s summary of that story – it did kill the company.)

My friend and mentor Brian Tracy says (paraphrased): “Following the leader may work out. Following the follower is usually disastrous! It’s best to be the leader”.

“What” Drives Us to Buy Something?

Simon Sinek is an author, visionary thinker and “unshakable optimist”. 


My search for high performance teams and people brought me to this  wonderful TED Talk. Sinek explores what makes people or companies stand out among their peers. The talk is 18 minutes long, longer than I like to send you to. 


It’s entertaining.


It’s inspiring and unique in its “discovery”. (True visionaries among you may be less surprised.) 


I think it’s worth the time. I hope you agree.


He asks:

  • Why is Apple so creative and consistently a leader in the computer business? Others have access to the same resources Apple has. Except for one!
  • Why could Martin Luther King Jr. attract a quarter of a million people to listen to him? Others had equal or better speaking talents and ideas, access to marketing resources, etc. Except for one!
  • Why did the Wright Brothers succeed in powered controlled flight? Samuel Langley failed, working with better funding, better education, more resources of all sorts. Except for one!

Other similar examples abound. Mahatma Gandhi, Mustang vs. Edsel, The Beatles, come to mind.


In Sinek’s talk he suggests that, in your marketing, you should answer:

  1. WHY do you do what you do?
  2. HOW do you do what you do?
  3. WHAT do you do?

In that order. Many people get that exactly backwards. They explain what they do. They may then explain how they do it. Some may even explain why they do it. 


Simon discusses the biological processes in the human brain. How they correlate with his recommended strategy. Why they don’t correlate with much of the marketing out there.


Next he talks about the law of diffusion of innovation. Why and when innovators, early adopters, majorities, and “laggards” buy things. 


Along the way, he entertains you!


I leave it to Simon Sinek to entertain you! While he entertains you he’ll explain why and how  all this works.   Enjoy!