"Culture trumps strategy," author unknown, is among my favorite quotes and one I frequently pass on to entrepreneurs seeking insight on how to build a successful business. Creating a differentiated product, targeting a rapidly growing market and establishing a profitable business model is important, but none of those guarantee success if you don't have a team that is aligned, empowered and excited to show up to work every day.
- Tom Simpson
I often use quotes as a concise and colorful means of motivating and inspiring teams. Effective quotes are like commercial jingles — they are punchy, memorable and drive action. They're among the building blocks many founders and CEOs deploy as they develop a desired culture or outcome. I regularly observe famous quotes stenciled on the hallways and in the conference rooms of innovative and emerging companies or in their marketing materials.
Avis, for example, famously made good use of, "If you can't fix it, feature it," by Sir Ernest Shackleton. In 1962, Avis was second to Hertz with 11 percent market share and had not been profitable in 13 years. To fix this, the company embraced their No.-2 status by proudly featuring it in advertisements along with a new tagline: "We try harder." Avis' campaign, and supporting maniacal focus on customer service, changed everything. By 1966, Avis had a 35 percent market share and was making money.
Wayne Williams, former CEO of Telect and currently general manager of Amphenol Telect, and one of our region's most prominent entrepreneurs, has assembled a slide deck of leadership quotes he features in presentations to management teams. His favorites, as well as the context under which he uses them, are shared below.
"Anything that won't sell, I don't want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success," by Thomas Edison. Williams uses this to communicate to engineers and others that no matter how great an idea is, unless you can exchange money between two parties, it's just an idea and not a commercially viable product.
"Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and move on with improving your other innovations," by Steve Jobs. This quote reminds teams not to focus so exclusively on perfection that they can't stop, learn, develop another innovation and pivot.
"Only the paranoid survive," by Andy Grove. Williams highlights this quote by one of the founders of Intel to instill a healthy dose of fear in the minds of team members. "The competitor you know is trying to take your lunch away," Williams likes to add, "and there's another one you don't know also trying to steal it."
"A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new," by Albert Einstein. Doing something with movement, even imperfectly, is better than sitting idle or with fear of failure, per Williams.
"Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe," by Abraham Lincoln. Although Williams uses a chainsaw today, what he likes about this quote is that it drives home the importance of preparing for the task; readying the tools, equipment and people.
Williams himself is quite quotable, and I often preach one that he coined more than 20 years ago, "It is who you know that gets you the look, it's what you show that gets you the work and it's what you do that lets you keep it." This summarizes the fundamentals of old fashioned yet solid business practice.
Other local entrepreneurs I have worked with also maintain a repertoire of favorite quotes.
Andy Barrett, founder of Berg Co.: "Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way" (author unknown).
Jordan Allen, co-founder & CEO of Stay Alfred: "If you always do what you've always done, you always get what you've always got," by Tony Robbins.
John Pariseau, local real estate developer: "Necessity is the mother of taking chances," by Mark Twain.
Josh Neblett, co-founder & CEO of etailz: "If you dislike change, you are going to like irrelevance even less," by retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki. Neblett also has one of his own: "Don't make the mistake of making money." The context for his quote is the incredible valuations money-losing unicorns often receive from investors. Although counter to my training as a certified public accountant, I tend to agree with him in situations where capital is no object.
Occasionally quotes get tweaked over time. Historically, I have aspired to "underpromise, overperform," as management guru Tom Peters put it. That was until I heard Mark Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, say, "overpromise and overperform," which I now advocate as part of my personal "no excuse policy."
My own made-up quote is, "Don't get Netflixed." Blockbuster could have and should have pivoted to the business model ultimately deployed by Netflix. Instead, Blockbuster's management either misread the future, were resistant to change or couldn't rally the troops. Which leads to my final quote for you to ponder: "Onward and upward," also by President Lincoln. ♦