A Wake-UP Call to Recruiters

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I’m not sure if a business comes to mind where I’m hit up more than Recruiters.  Headhunters.  Staffing Agencies.  Every week it’s a different company (or 2-3) that offers to find me great talent, massive databases, great screening, etc.  What a difficult business to compete in when a small little company like LM Foods gets approached so often and the service providers tend to blur together.  What happens in a market of multiple players, all offering the same service?

  • You ignore the white noise and you stick with one or 2 and work with them.
  • You can try and “find the bottom” of the market……offer up a program that works in hopes of cost savings.  See who’s willing to invest and get their foot in the door.  The infamous race to the bottom.
  • You give the best one a shot, don’t negotiate.  See if indeed their model is better in the real world and how the recruiter delivers.  If it works, you’ve expanded your network of service providers.  If it doesn’t, you haven’t improved your model but your trying, and that counts.

Here’s some observations I’ve had with recruiters for LM Foods.

  • VERY few will customize their intro letter.

    • Sometimes they cut and paste and you can tell as font sizes/color are different.  Lazy & Careless.  Can’t they even view the website to understand what you actually do?

  • Even fewer offer to come tour the business and get dirt under their nails.

    • So let me get this straight, you want 20% of year one salary and you don’t even want to see my operation that you’ll be recruiting for?

  • Few will offer 100% cash refund at a reasonable interval, “if the employee doesn’t work out in 6 months we’ll refund 100% of the money!”

    • They get it, hiring is a crap shoot and there’s a reason why few will do this.  But doesn’t it undermine the premise of their very own marketing materials?  And since very few will offer this, isn’t that by definition a clear path to differentiating their product?  Wouldn’t the built in risk make them better at their craft?  

  • Many try and control the process (communication), protect the candidates identity, contact info, etc.  As if they “own” the individual and a company will steal the candidate in hopes of doing a back door hire to avoid a recruiter/agency fee.

  • I understand they are in the service business and some companies may try and “steal” a buck.  But the companies that do a back door hire are gambling with their reputations, and if they do, will the agency ever work with them again?  There is too much fear in this area and the recruiters should worry more about adding value vs playing protectionism.

    [Continue Reading…]

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In a Rut? Go on a Field Trip!

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“Get out in the field!”

It’s an expression in business that could mean a few things:

  • Visiting customers
  • Looking at the competitive marketplace
  • Working in the factory/front lines
  • In the Stores

The field is really anything that gets closer to the core of where the action is.  Anyplace but the desk. And usually around people.

A recent market visit brought us to the Bronx Fish Market.  A place few know exists and it’s not for the feint of heart!

bronx fish market

After the fish market we hit a couple of local businesses in our space.  And then my Italian roots took over.  The calling of Arthur Avenue in Bronx NY.  Some call it, “NY’s REAL Little Italy.”  No argument here.

arthur ave bronx ny

 

We found a gem of a small business, Tino’s Deli.

Hustle comes in many shapes and sizes.  

Why was it a gem?

  • Food was fresher than fresh.  Rare finds, no common name brands.  But all the staples you’d expect in an Italian Deli.
  • It was spotless.  Stainless steel garbage cans.
  • All the staff was happy we were there.  How did we know?  They smiled early, often and looked us in the eye.
  • The food met my expectations, and in this kind of store they are always sky high.

The owner Giancarlo Paciullo was a throw-back to an era where personal service was the norm.  He brings a tear to the eye of a blog writer where the subtitle is “Where Old School Meets New School.”

I asked to take a picture with him after we were done with breakfast.  Little did I know our server called him at home (he lives a couple blocks away) and he walked back to his place just to take a picture.  I felt bad for inconveniencing him.  But I really wanted to remember him.  And he gave us a nice little bag for the road.

tino's deli bronx ny

After looking at his website, I almost gasped at the little < 2 minute video, set to the awesome Guns & Roses “Patience.”  There’s that Old School Meeting New School thing again…..

Small little businesses like Tino’s Deli do not spend millions on advertising.  They earn loyalty one customer interaction at a time.  They dazzle people with service from the heart.

Then their loyal customers take over and tell everyone that will listen about their experience.

Go Arthur Avenue.  Go Tino’s Deli!  Bravo.

We all get in ruts in while running our businesses. Simple solution. Get to the Field.  

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Little Tests of Integrity: The Choice to do the RIGHT Thing

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Integrity, nobody's watching

A minor event happened recently that I didn’t give much thought at the time.

A supplier billed us for goods received.  But there was an honest mistake in that they billed us for an amount that was a few thousand SHORT of what it should have been.  We brought it to their attention right away and had them re-bill for the higher/correct amount.  It was second nature, as it should have been.

But I do wonder:  Would this have been “automatic” for all businesses?  Or would they have paid the lower amount and looked the other way?

I have no idea what % would fall into each side of the issue.  But here’s  what I DO know:

  • If MY business made the same mistake, I would hope that my customer would alert me and allow me to fix it.  This certainly beats the awkward situation of catching our own mistake than bringing it to THEIR attention and asking to re-bill.  And that assumes we would actually catch it.

Doesn’t this sound like the “golden rule” principle for dealing with partners?  

The golden rule extends beyond how you “treat” people, it goes to the level of candor and honesty you have in your actual business practices.  The day to day grind of paying bills, receiving money, and communicating openly and honestly vs. playing your cards very close to the vest.

This can be considered a slant on “Old School vs. New School.”  I can certainly make the case that customer and supplier relationships in the ’90’s were more combative than today.

Businesses are starting to realize that joint success, collaboration and integrity are not “choices” if you intend to have long-term strategic relationships.  The key word of course is LONG-term.  

Back to my original question:  What % would NOT “do the right thing?.”  Lets suppose that this # approaches double digits and it likely does.

If that’s the case, than wouldn’t operating the RIGHT way be a competititve advantage?  I think so….

The business case for doing things the right way is simple.  Many do not.  If you DO, you create an intangible difference.  Positive differences tilt the deck in your favor.

For me however, I would just rather sleep well at night.

I would also like to know who I’m dealing with that wouldn’t do the right thing.  Life is short and business is too competitive to worry about these little things, that end up being big things.

There are lots of things to worry about in business.

Getting beat for integrity lapses (or pouncing on someone else’s mistakes) should never be one of them.

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A Call to Leaders: Learn From Our Moms on A Mission

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What’s the most powerful motivator for a business?

  • Financial Results?  Incentives that follow?
  • Ownership/Equity shared with key players?
  • Caring/Serving others?
  • Achieving a businesses “BHAG” (Big Hairy Audacious Goal to credit the great Jim Collins)?
  • Fulfilling the businesses “Mission”?

The fact is I’m not sure.  But one thing I’ve been flat out stunned by one of the most powerful forces on the planet.

A Mom on A Mission

This force is not gender specific, it’s the “Mission” that is the key point.  A higher cause, beyond what your trying to do TODAY.

I first started to believe this in 2013, and I wrote about “Moms on a Mission” and the passion & effort to bring Best Buddies to Memphis, TN by couple of go-getters in Memphis.

It hit me again this month, same community of intellectual disabilities, but this time government is brought into the fold.

Congress passed the ABLE Act (Achieving a better life experience) in early December.  But what hit me is the following.

  • It was a landslide vote:  404 For, 17 Against.  When does Congress EVER unanimously support a bill to that level?  
    • Senate passed 76-16 too.
  • It wasn’t overnight.  8 years of frustration trying to get this bill passed.  Not 8 months.  8 YEARS.

Note:  I was proud to be part of a lobbying trip to DC about 6 years ago where Down Syndrome local affiliates from across the country to meet with their representatives.  Humbling and energizing, all at the same time.  Our democracy flat out works, with all of its problems.

A shout-out to another Mom on a Mission, Jawanda Mast, one of  the strongest advocates I know.  Jawanda personifies what HUSTLE is all about, and her journey is captured beautifully on her blog.

http://www.thesassysoutherngal.com/

 

How many businesses would endure 8 years of rejection, sunk costs and countless denials for all of that effort?  Not many.  Businesses always cut their losses beyond some point.

Moms on a Mission…..people with a cause flat out never give up.  They will work until their last waking hour to get something done when OTHERS are at stake, not themselves.

In the case of Best Buddies & The passage of the ABLE act, both causes happen to be communities that aim to provide a better life for those that can use a little help.

Change for any disadvantaged community does  not happen by accident, as there is no free market incentive system built into our society that enables a kid to be included in the classroom, the Friday night pizza party, or a chance at a job or saving for college.  This type of change requires people that are driven by more than the almighty $.

Enter Moms on Mission.

The very few businesses that tap into the spirit of these 2 examples would be flat out unstoppable.  Who wouldn’t invest in those kinds of businesses?    

Getting people to work beyond their SELF-interest may very well be the Leadership challenge of the century.

 

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/12/03/congress-able-act-chip-gerhardt/19855449/

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Thoughts on Building A Company With Heart

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I was a bit surprised when one of my colleagues said they were “dreading asking me for a half day off” a few weeks ago.

“What’s the big deal, we’ll survive the few hours right?”

Like most initial reactions, when you reflect with a little time that passes, you can relate a bit better.  There’s a lesson in that alone for all of us e-mailers!

A quick story of the past before going into the role of a leader…..

I often reflect on my fantastic 8+ years at Monogram Foods which I certainly consider PIVOTAL in my life, for a couple of reasons.

  • I started at the age of 31.  Enough experience and boundless energy to make a difference, but maybe too young (never thought I’d say that) to put relevance on anything big picture related.
  • My first child Hope was  18 months old, also a turning point in my life.  Becoming a parent is big for ANYONE.  Hope was born with Down Syndrome (DS), we wouldn’t change a thing about her.

The fact that Hope DOES have DS, meant I was opened up to a new world, a world where I needed to understand communities that may need a little extra help.

My wife and I divide and conquer very well.  She focused on direct care of Hope (school system, therapies/medical, etc) and I focused on the outside world (local community, fundraising, businesses, government to a degree).  We of course came together at the big points in both worlds.

What happened with me?

  • I joined the local Memphis Down Syndrome Affiliate as a board member.  Our goal was to improve/empower the lives of people with DS and their families.  Lots of ways to do this, and all can’t be done at once, and all of it requires time and money.

Back to motivation in business…..

  • We needed a place for board meetings.  I went to my boss and asked if he wouldn’t mind if I use my company’s conference room.  I kind of felt like my colleague asking me for a half day off.  I wouldn’t call it dread, but there was certainly “butterfilies.”

My boss’s reaction?  “ABSOLUTELY!  Make sure everyone helps themselves to the soft drinks too.”

While I wasn’t surprised at his support (as solid a person as they come), I WAS elated that the reaction was an “open arms” invitation to the organization.

It sent a message:  “What’s important to you, is important to us.”

That continued.

  • I asked if we could donate hot dogs to annual awareness/fundraising walk.  They sent a crew to cook them.  And we invited the entire company, and they showed up in droves.
  • They donated.  And if you’ve ever asked people for donations, you know how difficult that is.
  • When I went to DC for a couple of days to lobby in support of the community?  They were waiting at the coffee pot wanting the run down of the experience.  Taking precedent over SEC Football reviews is big.
  • The list goes on….

This wasn’t just my boss/President of the company.  It was my team members on the exec team (I considered them like “brothers”).  The team I was honored to lead.  The plants.  High and wide.

In short, MY journey with Hope and the DS community became their journey too.

I wasn’t the only lucky one.  People’s life journies/stories became part of the culture.

Fast Forward to Today, where we work to create something great beyond Monogram….

The lessons and stories I tell as I build a company elicit a common reaction:

  • “Well you WERE a VP you know!” as if to say “rank has its privelages.”

Fair response, if you believe that leadership level determines HEART.  I do not believe that.

Another learning lesson:[Continue Reading…]

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Branding Case Study: The Prize of Emotional Connection

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Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts

image credit: http://emilycontois.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/coffee-scale.png

I’ve always been a Starbucks addict.  The brand has been part of my daily routine for about 15 years and I bet I’ve been the first ring at 5:30am more than 100x’s in over 4 locations in 3 states.  In short, I’d consider myself a loyalist.  The routine stopped in March 2014 when I moved to NJ to acquire LM Foods and there just isn’t one between Pt. A (Gym) and Pt B (company).  The experience has let me learn a few things as my Venti Black Dark Roast went bye bye…..

I’ve become what marketers call an “experimenter.”  Open to new experiences.  A coffee Swinger if you will.  In general, Dunkin Donuts probably gets 75% of my coffee $’s, but that is probably falling to 1/3 fast.  For me, they are not Starbucks for a variety of reasons:

  • They simply haven’t figured out the “Third Place Concept” and the vibe that goes with relaxation.  I think I’ve taken advantage of the Starbucks leather seats <10% of the time.  But the vibe, even if I only feel it for 90 seconds matters.  Life is hectic, and escapism matters.  
  • Dunkin can’t seem to understand that selling 2 day old bagels is not smart.  And they make this mistake often, and when you tweet them about it?  Black hole, no response. Why bother having a Social presence if you fail to engage?  
  • Dunkin is one of the great franchises in America.  But you simply never know what kind of experience you will get when your greeted by your Dunkinista (is that a word?). When I’m one of the first customers showing up when its still dark outside, and am on trip #30, shouldn’t you know who am?  

There’s a funny thing that happens when a Brand does not earn an EMOTIONAL connection with its consumers:  They start to wander.[Continue Reading…]

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Your Hustle Tank is on “E”? Now What?

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Hustle Tank on E

A recent post discussed the career dangers that result in a Hustle Tank on “E.”  The purpose was just to raise awareness that if you find yourself there for an extended period, you are in a REAL AND PRESENT career danger zone.

Than someone dropped me a line and said, “I’m there, any advice to get out of it?”  I always appreciate readers engaging, and this is not an easy question!

So here are some thought on how to attack a Hustle Tank on “E.”

First, let me assume (could be dangerous) that things in one’s personal life are relatively stable and not in a state of turmoil.

Everyone has challenges beyond work, but let’s assume those challenges are not EXTRAordinary.

Step # 1

1)  Analyze Your EXISTING Daily Routine:  How you use your time can be a major contributor to a tank on E.

  • How much “dead” or wasted time are you spending per day?  (Take a look at your TV habits for a starting point)
  • Are you working out?
  • Are you reading new things?
  • Having conversations with trusted people?  Old Friends?  New contacts?  There’s a coffeehouse on every corner, use it.

Key Point:  Getting your tank beyond “E” will likely involve utilizing your time in a very different way.  Start small, 20 minutes a day with something different.  Write it down, whatever that new activity is, each day.  Nothing fancy, a cocktail napkin works.  But do SOMETHING different each and every day.

What “bigger chunks of time” or new experiences are you consistently engaging in?

  • Service to others?  Non Profit service is a great way to charge your batteries and get the attention off yourself and onto others
  • New “side projects?”  Start yourself a blog, new hobby, a free on-line course from Wharton or a bunch of other elite institutions, etc

This one is harder to do daily, so you may want to think of this as a WEEKLY activity or bi-weekly.

2)  Get a Plan Quickly And Approach Your Employer

  • Nothing infuriates an employer more than someone that is clearly on “E” and doesn’t seem to care.  If your in this situation you need to deal with it head on and start sitting with your management.  The more well thought out your meeting the better.  More solutions you bring to the table the better.
  • The point is to not let “E” be long term, it will diminish your reputation, get on top of the situation and confront it.

There is risk involved with sitting down with your employer and telling them “I’m burnt out!”  Many people don’t want to approach it for fear of losing their job.  Maybe the emergency funds are not built up?  Maybe the confidence is low?  There could be a hundred reasons why people avoid the conversation.

Balance the risk of “looking the other way/ignoring the problem” vs. confronting the reality head on and a being in the room while the problem gets discussed and worked.

I’ve never met a high achiever that prefers to let OTHERS make a decision (especially negative ones) behind close doors vs. having a seat at the table.

There is one obvious solution I’m leaving out:

Expand your options, find alternatives.  Translation?  Find another job.  That is intentional.  Most people don’t analyze the root cause of what gets them on “E.”  Or some do, but they never confront the situation with their Employer, for whatever reason.  Lets say you jump to a search and find another job, great, Congrats!  How long will it be before that tank finds itself on “E” again?  The answer is not “IF”, it’s “WHEN.”  What’s the solution going to be then?

Working towards Excellence is not an easy road.

Business is a CONTACT SPORT.  There’s no shame in having your Hustle tank fall to “E.”  The only shame is not figuring out why, than developing an action plan to fix it.

Good luck, and I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on how you refill an empty tank….drop a comment below!

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The Small Business “Sorry” Dilemma

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I root very hard for the success of the small, locally owned small business.  A thriving small business community is a cornerstone to a great OVERALL community.

But I can’t help but scratch my head at a recent experience.

The Scene?

  • A local deli in an industrial area of NJ.  Opens at 6am, serves typical breakfast food, coffee, etc.
Local coffee shop

Image Credit: WSJ

I asked the owner “how’s business been?”

“Extremely slow, never seen it this bad.  We’ll see?”

Sounded ominous.  And to be honest, a bit de-flating.  Maybe because we were chatting about a Jets loss on Monday Night football.  Starting the day off with negativity < Optimism!

He proceeded to make the sandwich, I poured a cup of coffee.  Sandwich was good and better than the local chains.

But something I took for granted as I finished and topped off my coffee before leaving:

“We charge for re-fills, I’m sorry, that will be $1.65!”

“No problem!”  I paid, left and as always, re-played that event and how a small business chooses to compete, or not.

Every business owner has the privilege of making whatever decisions they think are right for their business, it’s one of the beauties of a free economy.

But their WAS one word in this exchange I found a bit telling:

“I’m sorry.”

Apologies in business are somewhat rare.  When done with sincerity they are a great customer service building gesture.

However…..

Why apologize for your OWN decisions related to how you run your business?

I had some thoughts what prompted his appology….

  • Maybe it’s a new policy?
  • Many customers take a self service station as a license for granted (admittedly presumptuos))?
  • He sees perplexed looks on your customers faces?
  • He really is sorry for charging for a re-fill….

How about a new tool:

The Sorry Meter:

If you find yourself compelled to apoligize for business decision, maybe you should think about an alternative to avoid the Sorry to begin with?

 

There are plenty of alternatives to the dilemma:

Post a humorous sign by the station:

  • “Crappy coffee is cheap and free re-fills work.  Great coffee costs money, so we proudly charge for a second cup.  Because Life is too short to endure crappy coffee”

Sales Pricing/Promotion 101.

  • Give Free Re-fills for higher ticket transactions.  Make it a reward for valuable customers.
  • Just Increase the price of cup #1 and offer free re-fills.  Yes, the single cup customers subsidize the multi cup customers, but most would rather have the experience “built in” to the price.
  • Interestingly, this small business had ZERO internet presence.  No web page, social media engagement, etc.  No Yelp reviews, etc.  Maybe his audience is not active, but I doubt it.

How about creating a “Customer Manifesto” that outlines the principles of service and the pricing charged for that service?

How about some direct engagement trying to understand the person walking in the door, what they are about, do they work in an office (or Manufacturing plant) with many people that could be potential customers?

Hustle takes the shape of many forms.

Not recovering costs in business (and then a profit) is a surefire way to bankruptcy, so I would never advocate giving away anything that does not look to generate profit.

All businesses struggle with the need to generate profit TODAY, vs the LONG-Term health of the business.  Sustainaability is driven by, loyal customers.  Loyalty drives Lifetime value, and it’s always preceded by a relationship.  

The Challenge?

We are in a hyper-competitive world with so many choices.  One decision can either INCREASE trips or $ ring, or DECREASE it.  The battle is the transaction.  The WAR is the lifetime value of the customer.

It’s possible to win both, but like most great things in life, it won’t happen by accident.

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Reflections on Non-Profit Leadership: #Icebucketchallenge

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Like many people, I am amazed at the viral social media success of the ALS #Icebucket challenge fundraising effort. According to the ALSA.org website, donations have reached $62.5mm as of 8/23/14.  It seems impossible to visit Facebook without seeing a video of somebody taking the challenge.  I can’t think of a better example of the NEW SCHOOL doing good things for a worthy charity.

As a former board member of the Down Syndrome Association of Memphis/Mid-South (DSAM), it brought back many memories of 6+ great years of non-profit service.

Every year in October, the DSAM held their annual “Step up for Down Syndrome” fundraising walk.  To say that it was a labor of love put it mildly.  Some rough numbers:

  • Well over 3,500 people attended
  • Nearly as many King Cotton Hot Dogs were consumed!
    • Monogram Foods (parent company of King Cotton) was always a fantastic supporter, and I was proud to call Monogram home for 8+ years
  • The number of volunteers that touched this event went well north of 50.  From high school kids looking to earn volunteer credit, to moms, grandparents and staff members that worked long hours with selfless dedication to the cause.  Ever try throwing a party for 3,500 plus people?   Not easy.  Which brings me to my next point.

Many of my fellow MALE board members would often joke about the weekend preparations leading up to the event.  Lots of physical activity took place, and plenty of sore muscles lasted for a few days.

The joke among my guy counterparts?  The role of the female staff leadership vs. the male board members organizing the event:

“To pull this off, what we need are strong backs and weak minds!”  

The guys on the board all joked about this.  Call this the Old School summary of our role helping out for the event.

These are guys that all had some type of managerial full time job, many with large and growing companies.  Suspending ego, playing a support vs leadership role is not exactly in our DNA.  But it was needed for success.

We’ve all heard the expression about too many chefs in the kitchen.  Organizations, whether striving to make a profit or striving to fulfill a service mission without one, need a mix of strong minds writing the playbook, and strong and dedicated people delivering it.  Neither is more important and without each other working together the mission won’t be achieved.

After fulfilling my #Icebucketchallenge, I looked back fondly on not just my years of service to a great non-profit, but the staff leadership I was lucky to get to know.  They were all talented, dedicated and driven.  I was happy, (at least on the weekend of the event), to value my back over my mind.

I hope with all the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, there can be a few leaders (or aspiring leaders) that are inspired to give back something more important than their money to any cause that hits home:  Their time.  Their talent.  Their energy.

When people make that choice to serve, they will almost definitely be blessed like I was.  They will meet those talents that personify the word HUSTLE.  

Their talent enriches the lives of the people they serve.

I couldn’t imagine better people to surround myself with, and hope others do as well.  

  

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Hustle in Action: Kenny Brooks

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There are so many reasons why I believe HUSTLE is one of life’s most controllable difference makers.  Hustle is one of those intangible elements, it doesn’t come with a degree or certification, but you know it when you see it.

 

When I think of HUSTLE, a few words/images come to mind…

  • Thick skin

  • Creative

  • Aggressive

  • Makes a $1 out of fifty cents (isn’t that a song lyric?)

  • Enjoys the ride

  • Memorable

  • Contagious

Most important?  They makes it happen:  Usually 10x’s greater results than people with < Hustle factor.  

No research to back this up.  No government study.  Simple common sense.

Lets look at Internet sensation Kenny Brooks, a door to door salesman that epitomizes the word Hustle.

Ask yourself if his success rate is significantly better than his peers?

 

If you own a cleaning supply company, would you hire a Harvard MBA, or would you hire Kenny Brooks?

Hustle Matters.

Role models and learning opportunities are all around us.

“Paint me green and call me a pickle!”

Hustle on…..

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