Archives for September 2013

Saying Goodbye to the Great Ones

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The business world can be brutal at times.  Competition never seems to let up, and often people are casualties in the process.  One of the hardest parts of leading business is managing the brutal reality of the bell curve.

Improving results is a function of improving an organization’s “average” and there are plenty of ways to do that.  Often times results are improved by going to the extremes, not the middle, 70%:

  1. The bottom 10% of the organization
    • This group can be improved, but it’s a challenge.  Improving results needs to be intentional, as detailed in “saying goodbye.”
  2. The top 20% of your performers
    • Simple strategy:  Don’t lose them!  Hang on.  Ask them to shape the future, be role models, whatever is their hot button, give it to them.

Sometimes the top performers move on and it can’t be avoided.  They get the offer that simply can’t be matched.  Or they want to try something new.  It hurts to lose them, but it should be celebrated nonetheless. In a MAJOR fashion.

This week, Major League Baseball, and my beloved NY Yankees said goodbye to the greatest closer that ever walked a baseball diamond, Mariano Rivera.  He’s not in the top 20% group; he’s in the top .0001% group.

It is hard for any Yankee (or baseball fan for that matter) to watch Mariano’s last inning at Yankee Stadium and NOT shed a tear.  If there’s a more touching final walk off the field in a storied career, I haven’t seen it.  Enjoy the clip.


Back to tears and saying goodbye to the great ones.  Optimists take heart in the great Dr. Seuss.

Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened Dr. Seuss

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Mariano was in a class by himself.  He was not just dominant on baseball’s biggest stage; he carried himself with a class that can’t be found among today’s pro athletes.  Mariano made it look easy.  He respected the game.  He came from nothing, and became the greatest of all time.

A clip with only 15k views, this explains a ton of where Mariano came from, making his achievements even MORE remarkable.


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A Kid Takes a Shot With The Piano Man

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It is perplexing to figure out why some Youtube videos goes viral and others remain in the dark.  Not this story….

When Vanderbilt University student Michael Pollack accompanied Billy Joel on “New York State of Mind” it quickly spread, with over 2.5mm views and many outlets picking up the story.

Sometimes in life, you need to throw caution to the wind and just take a shot.

Michael may or may not make it in the music business.  Either way in his own words, taking a shot gave him the greatest moment of his life.  And provided one hell of a clip for millions at the same time


He tells InsideVandy that:

“So I decided I was gonna go see Billy Joel right when we found out he was coming, and as a childhood idol of mine, right away I knew what I wanted to do when we went there. … And the day came, I put together a question, and I was raising my hand, and my friends to the right of me kept pointing to me, and finally after a few questions he picked on me and I hesitantly said how ‘New York State of Mind’ was my favorite song, and how I had performed it with his saxophonist Richie Cannata in the past and wondered if I could go up and play it with him. And then he thought for a little — he took a second — and then he just said ‘Okay.’ …

“I’ve been playing [the song] for at least eight years now … it’s one of my favorites by him. … I had to tune up a little and learn the bridge one more time before the show just in case he called on me. But for the most part, it was by ear. …

“I kind of lost myself playing. Then afterward he said to me … he said that I was great, where are you from … and I said, ‘I’m a Long Islander just like you.’ He was like, ‘Cool.’ Then I walked off, and that was it … It was probably the greatest moment of my life, up to date.”


You Don't just accidentally show up in World Series - Derek Jeter Hustle

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“I Can’t Believe We Made it!”

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Generational differences are fascinating.  Hustle Or Bust: Where Old School Meets New School celebrates those differences in the context of business.

And no 2 minute video captures generational differences better than…..

“If you grew up in the ’50’s, ’60’s, 70’s, or 80’s, be grateful.”

Perhaps the most striking (or disturbing) thing about this video?  It has yet to go viral < 5k views.


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The Thrill of A City: Street Hustle

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I love cities, always have.  Growing up across the river from NYC was the start.  Living in downtown Boston for 5 years cemented my urban blood for life.  Some people love beaches, the country, mountains or lakes.  They are all great and I’ve enjoyed time in all of them.  But still, nothing compares to The City.

  • The vibe, the action.  The “pulse” is just a bit quicker downtown.
  • The smell of all kinds of food.  Especially street vendors.
  • The “wait” at a red light:  Crowds on each side of the street, waiting to collide at the turn of the green light.

What will you always find in a city?  STREET HUSTLE.

Some of the greatest people watching occurs when you stop and admire the go-getters.  Street performers.  People with all kinds of talent (and guts) trying to make a buck.  They are not just trying to Hustle a buck, they are usually having fun.

Want an alternative to a downtown play?  Take the same amount of money, and walk the biggest radius you have energy for.  Donate to street performers.  You’ll have a blast.  If your in Memphis, you can even stroll around with your favorite adult beverage.

Some cool videos of the best Street Hustlers going.

Like Ball-park vendors, excellence can be found in all walks of life.  If you want a fund day, AND a kick in the rear at the same time…. head to the city.  Thank the street Hustlers with a few bucks.

The San Fran Bush Man

NYC Union Square

Memphis:  Beale Street Flippers


Spider Man, City Unknown

Drummer, City Unknown

Daichi -Beatbox in NYC

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The Importance of Customer Segmentation

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It’s been on the horizon for TN. liquor stores for many years, law changes that allow Grocery Stores to sell Wine.  I’ve detailed out the business drama in the Case study:  Local Liquor stores fighting the sea change.

I argued that 100% of the Liquor Store owner’s energy should NOT be fighting the inevitable, but for preparing for this reality (fight or flight).

“If I owned a Liquor store I would put ZERO energy in fighting this legislation. ZERO.  I would put 100% of my energy preparing for the inevitable day when I have a 75,000 square foot store selling the same category I’ve been insulated on.  And if I couldn’t build a winnable plan, I’d be preparing for an exit.”

So the million dollar question is:  “HOW?”

Well, it starts with your biggest risk when massive competition comes your way:  Customer migration.

Said another way, fewer visits from existing customers, and fewer “new customer drop-ins” as more distribution options compete for your customer visits.

In Short, nothing matters more than customers.

  • Customers are the conduit to revenue.  Revenue is the conduit to margin.  Margin is what pays the bills.  
  • Enough quality customers + a sound business model = profit.  Not always, but usually.
  • Quality customers are meaningful, loyal and are your lifeline.
  • Have indifferent customers and who knows how many will leave you.  But you WILL have some losses.  The question is, will your business be OK as a result?

The question that keeps coming through my head is:  Do the stores even know their level of risk?

First Principle:  All Customers are not created equal.  

The “80/20” rule applies to all facets of life, where a very small % of customers create a large % of revenue.  It is amazing how consistent this rule is, and consumer analytics almost always proves this to be true.  

If the Grocery industry’s frequent shopper card bought us clutter to our key chains, it DID re-enforce this truth in marketing as the data proved category by category.  Given that, here’s the implications for liquor store owners, and all those in the Marketing Biz…

Know thy customers

image credit:

Customer Segmentation

  • Is the business model broken down all the way to the “customer level?”.
    • How many customers drive the total revenue?
    • How many trips per year per customer?
    • $’s spent per customer trip?
    • Trips per customer * $’s/trip = Annual total customer $ value
  • Are they segmenting customers from “high to low” (based on some measure of lifetime value, such as ANNUAL expenditures)?
  • Are they modeling what the future could look like when competitive landscape changes?
  • Does the new landscape affect all customer segments equally?
  • What does that likely scenario mean to the businesses bottom line?

At first blush, many marketers or store owners may think:  “How can I possibly get that data without expensive CRM systems?  Natural Reaction.  But if you don’t have expensive systems, you only need a couple variables to get close, which all businesses should have:

Steps For Modeling Your Customer Segmentation Value Grid[Continue Reading…]

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Remembrances on 9-11

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Tough days are better shared with others, there’s a human component to “WORK” we all should hold dear.

Re-printed with permission from two colleagues.

kim wtc

My lovely wife (before we were married) 1999 WTC

From: Mark Olivito
Sent: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 6:53 AM
To: Marketing
Subject: Sharing some thoughts on this day.

What a fun discussion on “bands that defined an era” yesterday!  It’s fun to hear people’s opinions and music always brings back memories.  Non work related discussions always serve a purpose, even if to keep things light on stressful days or learn something about a team member or 2.  So for that, THANKS!

On the treadmill this morning I couldn’t help to go back to 9/11, and how it wouldn’t be right to acknowledge this day and its significance in the world’s history (and present, and future).

Yes, not a light topic.  But there’s never been a bigger defining moment in this country’s history than that day, at least that I have lived through.  Historic days usually create an opportunity to reflect and share “where were you the day….”

I’m certainly not asking for that but am ALWAYS interested in learning about the people I work with and spend a huge amount of hours with.  I am always happy to share mine for those that care to hear….

I was in Cincinnati, going through a relatively stressful senior management business review meeting.  We got off on a topic that created a “lively discussion” I was the center of, the trivial nature of it compared to what was unfolding in my wife’s hometown does not even deserve ink.  But let’s just say that day was the start of a very clear dividing line for what I would accept, what I wouldn’t, and what mattered most in life.  In other words, it was a day I grew up, as many people did I suspect.

I’m an eternal optimist (and I’m sure some challenge this when we grind through our days and try and manage the business)…..and believe every moment in life has a lesson, although it’s sometimes hard to see when you are on top of it.   For me, here are a couple of optimistic memories….

  •  Either September 13th or 14th (days after 911), I was the best man of a friend’s wedding.  Unfortunately, it was in Cape Cod Ma, only about a 15 hour drive.  Kim and I dreaded that trip.  It happened to be inspirational.  Every bridge we drove under had 5 people or more hanging USA flags, banners, etc.  Every one brought tears to our eyes.  The unity was unreal.  I remember crossing the line into the metro area and tuning into Mike & the Mad Dog (famous radio show) and there was no sports being bantered.  They were talking about the events and it was clear the shock, days after the event turned too “what’s next.”  I remember the Mad Dog saying something like “somebody is going to get it, and they will get the full wrath of the world, and quickly.”  I think they were right, but I KNOW that UNITY, was undeniable.  There were no republicans or dems for the longest stretch I can remember.  Unity and focusing on common ground is amazing for spirits
  • The baseball season was on hold for quite a while, and the world series went into November.  It was one of the greatest world series ever, going to the last pitch of game 7, with the Yankees losing to Arizona on a broken bat bloop single in AZ.   I was at game 1 in NYC, and President Bush threw out the first pitch.  There had to be 100 snipers lining the upper deck, only everyone saw them.  Jeter gave the prez the best advice as he was nervous and warming up underground:  “Don’t bounce it, they will boo you.”  W threw a perfect strike.  55k people chanted USA and the 3 fighter Jets buzzed the stadium, popping ear drums of everyone in attendance.
  • Days after the Yanks lost we had a sales meeting, low and behold in AZ.  I was on the agenda for an hour, the usual agenda of performance, priorities, etc.  Right before I opened my mouth somebody yelled something about the Yankees.  It shut my mind down on anything business related as I went to the Fighter Jets, game 1, and the 15 hour trip cape cod.  I could have had a teleprompter, it would not have mattered.  I scrapped the business agenda, rambled about anything BUT the business for my time on the agenda.  I was so incoherent you couldn’t make sense of it.  No business objectives were met, or even attempted.  Borderline defiance.  By that standard, the worst business presentation I ever gave in my life, by a long shot.  Laughably pathetic.   And maybe the one I’m proudest of.  I certainly scored myself terribly in the days that followed, on top of the moment.  Now it’s at the top of the list.

Sometimes we get smarter with time, or at least what matters comes into sharper focus.

Sorry to be so “deep” at the start of the day.  Hopefully you spend some quiet time today and think about those that don’t have the same privileges we do, and as a result, see some light on a dark day in history.

MO[Continue Reading…]

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Case Study: Local Liquor Store’s Fighting A Sea Change

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There is a fascinating case study playing out for business geeks (and wine lovers) across the state of TN.

Should grocery stores be legally allowed to sell wine?

Thirty-three states currently allow wine sales in grocery stores.  In Tn., the sale of wine is prohibited in grocery stores, so if you’re a wine drinker, you’re forced to go to one of the 600 some odd packaged liquor stores across the state. Where there is money at stake, there is lobbying on both sides (grocers and packaged stores) to get laws passed that will either protect or enhance one’s bottom line.  The debates are fierce.

Interesting things happen in business when law changes present game-changing business scenarios.  When these scenarios play out there are often clear winners and losers.  Choices are made early on that determine the businesses survival, or profitable exit.  More often than not, time becomes the enemy as inertia (lack of decision or wrong decision) eats them alive.

Grocery stores have more to gain, packaged stores are on defense, thinking about their protected distribution channel now being put up for grabs and the thought of Deborah buying her Chardonnay next to the fish counter.

Sometimes businesses can’t control when external forces (government) put them on defense.  But when they are put there, they need to make 1 of 2 clear choices as soon as possible for playing defense effectively:

  1. Get consumed with the game changing issue (law change) and fight to PREVENT it from occurring.  In other words, prevent the future from changing.
  2. Accept that future change is not IF, but WHEN.  Then do 1 of 2 things.
    1. Exit the business if you can’t envision a profitable scenario, and do it fast.
    2. Get off your heels and figure out how to compete, Re-tool your business, get ready to compete since the big boys are coming.

Choosing 1 or 2 comes down to placing a bet if the future is likely to change or not, weighing the scales of both arguments.

Predicting the future sounds daunting, but is really just an educated guess and “weighing the scales.”  To do that, try the following:

  • List out all the stake-holders.  What different groups are involved?  
  • Ask yourself the following:  Will the proposed future change benefit or hurt the respective stakeholder?
  • Is there more $’s TODAY chasing the future proposed state or maintaining the current?  Will that be the case tomorrow, or will it shift?

You need to weigh the scales, for each stakeholder and judge which one wants the future to happen and which one does not.

Depending on which way the scale leans should usually HEAVILY influence you decision.  As it relates to this case, here’s how I see it.[Continue Reading…]

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Playing Both Sides: The Profile of Jimmy 2 Times

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I’ve profiled a few business types on the blog.

Mr. Get’er Done vs Debbie Downer.

Harry Hustle and his Sales Professionalism.

A Yankee game where unknown players had each other’s back, in the greatest brawl in Baseball History.

All profiles of common business types that create Excellence, or in some cases, anti-Excellence.

Now I present:  Jimmy 2 Times.

Jimmy 2 times

There’s a difference with business Jimmy and the Jimmy from Goodfellas.

Jimmy in the business world doesn’t say the same thing.  He says different things, 1 message to your face, and a different message NOT to your face. When the different message comes back around to you, and it always does, you wonder who you are dealing with?  And trust falls rapidly.

It could be over a business decision, feedback on a meeting, conflict within an office, forwarding (or BCC’ing) an email with a completely different tone or message, or simply trivial matters.

Regardless of the topic, 2 Timers pose on of the best TRUST KILLERS in business, when people choose to be inauthentic in their communication.

I have never seen this under-handed technique work in business.  MAYBE it works outside of business where hours with multiple people are not as constant.  Not in the hotbox of business.

It is why people can’t stand politicians; they don’t know where they stand.

There are reasons why many companies have a “No Gossip” policy:  It kills morale and erodes trust.  I’ve never worked in an organization that does, but certainly see the merits.

Like most areas of leadership, confronting the 2 timers comes down to a choice:  Do you drive a better outcome by dealing with it, or ignoring it?

Usually ignoring a problem is NOT a recipe for fixing it.

  • Set your expectations clear and often:  Authenticity is EXPECTED, not just appreciated
  • The Leadership Dare:  2 Timers always erode trust and hurt results.  They always get found out.  If you like this kind of high risk behavior, feel free!
  • Handle one on one when it happens:  Usually don’t need to address more than once….

All Relationships start with a foundation of trust.  The quickest way to build it is to “Do what you say you will do.”  The reverse is also true. Multiple it by 10 when the message is different, AND it’s also behind someone’s back.

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Thoughts on Labor Day: 5 Magical Values

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Happy Labor Day

A good friend of mine (Dean) just posted a comment on a recent post:  Answering the Bell, a fundamental work principle that is flat out taken for granted at times (call me Old School).  On Labor Day, it rings true….

“The ability to show up, consistently and on-time.” For me, this is the takeaway. I think that that statement encompasses: commitment, honesty, perseverance, accountability, and responsibility. When we answer the bell, we are standing in integrity with those five values.

I can’t think of 5 more important values to celebrate on Labor Day.

ALL jobs in this great country have value; I don’t care if it’s a minimum wage job or a Fortune 500 CEO.

EVERY JOB has value.


Because JOBS provide people the opportunity to demonstrate Dean’s 5 values.

Not everyone will choose to live up to all 5 values simultaneously or consistently.  However, everyone has the opportunity to step up to the plate and try….

I am always in awe of the waiter or waitress that looks you in the eye, smiles, engages you, and shows sincere service from the heart.  It is not only a reflection on the business they work for, it’s a STRONG reflection on them.  Less than 10% of the people I encounter I would put in this group of service excellence.

When I’m lucky to have them, I’m happy to tip a bit extra, and write them a little note telling them they are special.  I wish I was able to see where they would land in 5-10-15 years down the road.  Great things are in store for them, and it’s always fun to see them at the ground level.

They learned the 5 values early on……when you see people demonstrating them, tell them!  We need more people to live them.  

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