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Written by Jay Turo on Monday, February 18, 2013
The greatness of Napoleon, Caesar or Washington is only moonlight by the sun of Lincoln. His example is universal and will last thousands of years…He was bigger than his country - bigger than all the Presidents together…and as a great character he will live as long as the world lives.”
- Leo Tolstoy, The World, New York, 1909
In honor of President’s Day, I went and saw Steven Spielberg's great movie “Lincoln” this past weekend.
As it has for many, the movie exceeded my very high expectations for it.
The film's core narrative - President Lincoln's efforts to get the 13th amendment abolishing slavery through Congress before the end of the Civil war - offered a treasure trove of leadership wisdoms applicable to our modern day.
The movie paints a basic leadership dilemma in stark relief, namely what is the proper balance between morality and expediency?
Between "being right" and being effective, and to what degree do moral ends justify messy means?
Lincoln, through the leadership role into which he was uniquely thrust, probably grappled and suffered more publicly with this dilemma than any person in history.
Beset on all sides by the bitterest of adversaries - the incorrigible racists and States’ Rights advocates of the Southern and Border States on the one hand and the moral absolutists (combined with desire for revenge) of the Radical Republican North on the other - no matter what decision Lincoln made or action he took there would be a large, powerful, and vocal group vociferously opposed to it.
Adding monumentally and tragically to Lincoln's challenge was that so much of his power and decision making revolved around those most awful of choices - to send tens of thousands of young men into battle from which the almost certain outcome for very many of them would be death.
For anyone, the awesome responsibility of this kind of leadership is beyond overwhelming.
For a great soul like that of Lincoln's, it was tragic beyond our ability to possibly relate.
But it was also triumphant, and for any of us that strive to do great and moral things with our lives, there is no better role model.
First, Lincoln did not make his enemies "wrong."
Rather, he found that delicate and transcendental space whereby he was strong in decisions to prosecute that bloodiest of American wars harshly and vigorously, but while so doing found space in his heart and in his leadership directives to not deny the humanity nor the deserving of forgiveness of his enemies.
Secondly, he did not lead from "up on high," but rather with great vigor and charm appealed to the “better angels” of his adversaries to see things a bit different - more nobly and more charitably.
And finally, Lincoln recognized that even in the midst of a horrible war, that laughter is as much a part of living as are tears.
And thus, so often when a stern reprimand or harsh words would be the reaction of a lesser leader, Lincoln chose humor to make his point.
This is maybe Lincoln’s greatest lesson for modern leaders.
To stand and to work for great things, yes…
To forgive your adversaries, yes…
But, to do so not with a heaviness of heart or obligation of purpose but with a gentle and even mischievous lightness of being that makes the journey its own reward.
And when done with the dexterity and openhearted wisdom of an Abraham Lincoln, things not thought possible even to dream about come to pass.
Happy President’s Day.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, February 11, 2013
Last week, my column received quite a reaction as I pointed out how much of a disaster the public equity markets have been these past 14 years.
I shared some key statistics, especially that while from August 1982 to September 1999, the Dow Jones industrial average rose from 777 to 11,078, in comparison since 1999 it has moved only from 11,078 to 13,986 (approximately 25%).
Given that inflation since then has reduced purchasing power by over 37%, the net return for the period has been significantly negative.
To this, a lot of folks came back with basically two questions / comments:
1. Why has this happened?
2. What should we do about it?
Well, first of all with overall GNP growth rate being cut in half, from averaging 3.6% annually from 1982 to 2000 to 1.8% from 2000 - 2013, there is simply less money to go around.
Then, the returns that are to be had…well they have been mostly eaten up by the huge big bank infrastructures built up as trading volumes have increased over twenty-fold since the 1980s.
Sadly, slow overall GNP growth remains our most likely macroeconomic reality, and does anyone really see Wall Street slimming down any time soon?
So what to do about it?
Well, I suggest three prescriptions:
1. Give up on the public markets.
2. Find market inefficiencies.
3. Do it Right.
“Doing it right” should of course be all of our favorite, so on a webinar I will be hosting later this week I will share what I have discovered as to why today’s smart investors avoid the public markets and where, why, and how they invest now, including:
• How many of them no longer invest in “companies,” but rather only in projects
• How they are and how they are NOT planning to utilize the new laws regarding crowdfunding
• How they are utilizing “cross-border” and “in-kind” transactions to shelter returns from Obama era tax increases
• How they limit risk through "Black Swan" portfolio theory and modeling
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, February 4, 2013
The muted reaction to the major U.S. indices approaching all-times highs this past week felt a bit off for those that remember a time when folks that made their living recommending stocks were held in an almost mystical regard.
Whether they be Wall Street investment analysts, venture capitalists, or even plain old stockbrokers, the bull markets of the 80s and 90s raised all boats and reputations.
Take a look at the average annual returns of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 1982 to 1989:
And in the 90’s, the good times continued to roll - with the Dow skyrocketing from 2800 at the start of 1990 to over 11,000 by September 1999.
Now THAT was a bull market.
Since then, not so much.
Think about it, on an inflation-adjusted basis the return of all major US stock indices over the past fourteen years (1999 – 2013) has actually been negative.
And it gets worse.
Historically low interest and inflation rates - combined with massive and seemingly permanent federal budget deficits - have given the bond and money markets an even less appealing combination of low return and systemic risk.
And to top it all off, how about governmental policy and tone that if not outright hostile to the plight of the equity investor, is at its best supremely indifferent to it?
Yes, it is enough to cause despair in those that still believe that well-functioning equity markets are at the heart of a vibrant and growing economy.
But all is not lost.
You see, in the mist of all this malaise over the last 10-15 years, some investors have been making money.
Who Are They?
Now who these folks are and how they invest is something that I have dedicated a large part of my professional life to understanding and replicating.
And starting this Thursday, I am going to share what I have discovered.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, January 28, 2013
Wal-Mart. McDonalds. Starbucks.
What do they have in common? Well, for one, they are businesses that were not started and grown from scratch by their original founders.
No, they were businesses started by others and then bought by ambitious and talented entrepreneurs who then propelled them to a new stratosphere of growth.
And while high profile, statistically they are not atypical.
Census Bureau statistics show that a purchased business is eleven times more likely to still be in business 5 years from the time of purchase as compared to those started from scratch.
However, for most entrepreneurs and business owners, the business “transaction” path is far too often overlooked as a high-quality strategic alternative.
The main reason why, in my experience, is lack of know-how.
You see, the vast majority of entrepreneurs and executives have never even attempted to buy or sell a business.
As such, they have big knowledge gaps – ranging from the strategic, such as in how to identify the right kinds of companies to target for purchase…
…to the tactical, such as in how to best prepare and package historical financial statements for review by perspective acquirers.
And bridging these gaps can only be accomplished experientially – i.e. by actually trying to buy or sell a business.
Please let me emphasize try because the majority of attempted business purchases and sales do not consummate.
This is just fine, however, because the attempt itself always leads to unique wisdoms being gained.
These include being forced to really think about the evolving industry and competitive conditions in one’s market.
And to getting real as to the level of expertise, effort and resources necessary to translate a business’ potential into actual results and profits.
Now, even in those rare circumstances when a business is bought, for cash, on a "straight from the treasury" basis, the deal maker still must make a strong financial and strategic case to justify a deal’s opportunity cost.
Of course, for deals requiring outside capital, this case must be made that much more thoroughly.
Again, there is no substitute for experience.
Only by going through the exercise of actually building and defending a financial projections model can one acquire the knowledge base and savoir-faire to effectively deal make.
Let me close with a few words about deal advisors - management consultants, business brokers and investment bankers.
In spite of the mystique these sometimes fine folks like to maintain around themselves, when one cuts through the haze the best of them offer three critical value-adds.
First, as intermediaries, they massage and facilitate the naturally combative negotiating process of a one-off transaction that is a business purchase and sale.
Second, they act as accountability coaches.
Like other undertakings that require great proactivity - such as committing to a fitness or diet regimen - having an outside agent who is paid to keep you doing what you say you want to do has enormous and tangible value.
Now, on their own, these two value-adds are usually more than enough to justify the expense of an advisor.
It is a third value, however, that the best advisors offer that creates the really high ROI.
And that is working with an entrepreneurial and executive team to envision and articulate a business’ future value.
And then, helping to create and maintain existence structures that translate this visioning into day-to-day business realty and results.
THIS is the highest form of business work.
And the highest ROI.
So whether you decide to go it alone, or to work with a talented and ethical advisor, the business purchase and sale process is one that all serious entrepreneurs and executives should engage in regularly.
Because yes, even when a deal is NOT consummated, the return on time and investment will be VERY high.
And when a deal DOES get done and then the stars align…
…well it is THE fastest and most predictable path to business wealth and success known to humankind.
Just ask Sam Walton, Ray Croc, and Howard Schultz if you have any doubt about that.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, January 21, 2013
This weekend I had the very good fortune to attend Ryan Deis and Perry Belcher's Traffic and Conversion Summit in downtown San Francisco.
Headlined by speakers including Guy Kawasaki and William Shatner, it was an awesome gathering of 2,000+ of the best, brightest, and most accomplished from the worlds of online marketing and sales.
“Aha” moments were aplenty for all who made the effort to attend. Here were a few of mine:
These are the Worst AND the Best of Times for New Client Acquisition.
To large part because of gatherings like this - where the best SEO, SEM / PPC, landing page, copy-writing, and e-mail marketing strategies, tactics, and techniques are shared and then used (and in volume) by creative and aggressive marketers worldwide - it is more challenging than ever to attract new customers online.
Today’s online buyers have developed a killer combination of hardened skepticism AND sky high expectations as to pricing, product and service features and benefits, and to performance guarantees.
Now for the ambitious online seller this represents not just a great challenge, but an incredible opportunity as well.
You see, while these expectations have driven up customer acquisition costs, they have also driven the cost of a competitor acquiring that customer away from you even higher.
Now, this is where most companies who sell online get off track.
The very nature of the web - with its seductive ease of marketing to prospective customers worldwide - often causes the very dangerous myopia of neglecting those so good and honorable folks that are your customers now.
It is a bit funny that this was my big "aha" moment from a conference gathering of the some of the world’s biggest, baddest, and most aggressive online marketers.
And this led to my second aha.
The truth is already out there.
In this brave new world of ours where tens of hundreds of thousands of online businesses worldwide put their best stuff online for all the world to see…
…that imitation is not just the highest form of flattery, but it is great business strategy as well.
Now yes, what to do with all of this stuff can often feel overwhelming.
And this is where events like the Traffic and Conversion Summit are so valuable.
Ryan and Perry and their merry band curate and interpret this global treasure trove of strategies, techniques, and tactics for you.
AND they give you a framework for how to do so yourself.
And finally, the energy one draws from a gathering of 2,000+ of decidedly private sector, decidedly ambitious Internet entrepreneurs and executives…
...animates in one the energy and inspiration to take all of this knowledge and translate it into that most precious of all business assets.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, January 14, 2013
I usually hesitate to analogize from the world of sports that of business.
In contrary to many motivational videos, these are two very different realms of human endeavor and there is not a clear line between the attributes and mindsets that drive success in one as compared to the other.
This past week, however, I was moved by the stories and coverage of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis’ retirement after 17 seasons of professional football, and those of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban winning his third BCS national championship in four years.
Watching the various retrospectives and tributes to Lewis, the overriding takeaway was how his "always on” persona inspires those around him with feelings of action, of possibility, and of strong positive intent.
This kind of energy and presence is indispensable in very many aspects of business, but none so obviously more so than in sales and presentation.
Especially in this technologically distracted world of ours, the ability to consistently project high positive emotion is a key success factor and competitive advantage.
Now, a lucky few of us are blessed with a naturally "high motor" that can go on and on without a lot of maintenance.
But the vast majority of us have to work at it.
To eat, sleep, and exercise right.
And to feed one's mind and spirit with equally nutritional fare.
Now, when it comes working at it, Nick Saban is as great a role model as he is a legendary football coach.
While for some it was a bit off-putting to hear - just minutes after his team won the championship - - the notoriously "always on-message" coach already start talking about next season, for me it was refreshing.
Because in Nick Sabin’s world it is the work itself - as opposed to any glory or accolades or money that might come from it - that is the real reward.
And that as this work and its example catalyzes the success and growth of others, it is the satisfaction of so doing that is far sweeter and more gratifying than any personal triumph or celebration could ever be.
Ray Lewis. Nick Sabin.
Strong role models not because of their far greater number of wins than losses but because, in the words of Lewis himself, wins come and go but it is effort that is eternal.
And this effort, when taken to its methodical extreme, results in a life and career like that of Nick Saban's.
Which, of course, leads to triumphs and transformations and joys for millions to experience.
Just ask any Alabama football fan if you have any doubt about that.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, January 7, 2013
Watching the disaster of a process that was the D.C. fiscal cliff drama this past week, I found myself with a curious reaction.
And maybe even a little bit of a selfish one.
It was, by golly, how happy am I that I get to work in this so dignifying world of business and free enterprise and not have to waste my precious life energy on such nonsense?
And then feeling a bit more generous, I felt happiness for the hundreds of millions if not now billions of people worldwide that are able to do likewise.
To work in or at a business, just a plain old simple business.
A software development firm. A medical device company.
An accounting firm. A roofing company. An insurance agency.
A tanning salon. A yoga studio. A specialty retailer. A freight forwarding company.
Walmart. A donut shop.
Now don't get me wrong, of course government is important.
And that those that work in it often are very truly public servants and we should be thankful for their service.
And yes, our vexing public policy challenges require our attention and concern.
But it isn’t that important.
So much of the real action in this world of ours takes place in the micro.
In that wonderful world of concentrated production.
The world of multi-billion dollar companies like Cisco utilizing information technology to accomplish the accounting miracle of closing their books each and every day.
The world of General Electric growing great managers and business leaders time and time again.
The world of amazing customer service at places like Zappos and how that service dedication translates to strong profits that fuel our world.
The world of that sumptuous donut fresh out of the oven.
The world where, with a click of a button on my phone, I can buy a mobile app that sends me my text messages as e-mails (but don't ask me why I want this).
The world where I order new leather seat covers for my car, from Greece, on Ebay, and at a fraction of the price of what the dealership is asking.
And oh yes, by doing so make a small contribution to solving the Euro debt crisis.
And it is the world of my own business’ unique processes and project tasks and how we will profit from this burgeoning new world of global service exports.
Yes, most of the real and meaningful action is in this amazing 21st century global world of ours of hundreds of millions of points and more of concentrated business production.
That creates for all of us, this transcendent potpourri, this never-ending buffet, of essential, helpful, frivolous, sometimes conspicuous, but so blessedly diversified consumption.
And you know what else?
History has taught that the more folks focus on getting great at what they particularly produce, no matter how great and glamorous or small and prosaic it might be.
Well, it is by so doing that all of our fiscal cliff and other challenges as if by some magical hand just seem to take care of themselves.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, December 31, 2012
The ending of one year and the beginning of another is a natural time to take stock of all that was accomplished in the past 12 months, and usually more excitedly, to dream and to plan on the great promise of the New Year.
In this spirit, below are a few of my favorite quotes regarding dreaming, planning, goal-setting, and "going for it."
"You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'"
- George Bernard Shaw
(My comment: reflects the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit)
"What is not started today is never finished tomorrow."
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(My comment: the "fierce urgency of now" must inform and drive us all now more than ever. It is too fast-moving a world, too merciless a marketplace, to in any way dawdle or delay.)
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts"
- Winston Churchill
(My comment: The most accomplished executives and entrepreneurs that I have worked with have impressed me as much with their great fortitude as they have with their “glamorous” attributes - brilliance, connections, salesmanship, etc.
"Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great."
- Mark Twain
(My comment: This is the essence of leadership in modern, always morphing collaboration-driven organizations. The best managers build alignment and focused energy around shared goals and objectives.
"Goals are dreams with deadlines."
- Diana Scharf Hunt
(Our comment: The great ones dream it now do it NOW!)
Happy New Year, and may 2013 be the best year of all of our lives!
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, December 17, 2012
I had the great good fortune this past weekend to co-host Growthink's third and final Business Blueprint Live event of the year.
This is a conference where entrepreneurs and business owners gather for three days and nights to dream, plan, and network as to how to best grow the revenues, increase the profits and better fulfill the missions of their businesses.
What is really neat is that because of its longer group and in-person format, there is time and space to really listen and, correspondingly, to be heard and to share best business practices, ideas, and inspirations for the New Year.
Golly - what a weekend!
The attendees that ventured from near and far and from the comforts of their homes and regular routines took a chance.
The chance that by "mixing it up a bit," that breakthroughs would follow.
And they did.
From a medical device entrepreneur having that flash of insight as to how to best position his business for a strategic sale, to the software entrepreneur reflecting on how best to integrate a traditional marketing channel (radio) with a burgeoning one (texting), new and powerful business ideas and tactics were hatched and committed to.
And I was reminded of an old wisdom that I forget way too often.
It goes like this: when there is something “nutritious” in my life and business that I am resisting, it is that thing that above all else I need and should be doing.
It could be getting up early and doing that workout.
Or not having that second glass of wine.
Or sending those holiday cards.
Or taking that vacation.
Or, in business, making that call, writing that plan, structuring that partnership.
Going to that meeting, that conference.
And when you do, hold nothing back.
Don’t let any nagging doubts about whether this strategy, this decision, this job is the right one.
Just dive in.
Wasn't this so much at the essence of Steve Jobs' genius? This full commitment to do with fierce excellence whatever it was that he was working on at that particular time?
I saw and felt this full engagement this weekend.
Those there were fully there.
And from this full engagement, millions of dollars of business and conceptual breakthroughs and lovely relationships naturally flowed.
And when I reflect on these amazing outcomes, and then when I think back to the resistance I felt of not wanting to organize, not wanting to go to the event…
Well, it hits home that so important wisdom that when I really don't want to do something that I know in my heart that I should…
…well that is the exact thing that I must do.
And then let the magic happen.
Written by Jay Turo on Monday, December 10, 2012
Last night, I read this fantastic article in Fortune Magazine about one of my business heroes - Jeff Bezos - who was named this year's Fortune's Businessman of the Year.
It is full of awesome anecdotes of how Jeff leads Amazon to keep changing and prospering in our brave new worlds of global and social e-commerce and business.
I particularly was struck by the description of how Jeff manages the meetings of Amazon’s senior executive team:
“…the Amazon CEO's fondness for the written word drives one of his primary, and peculiar, tools for managing his company: Meetings of his "S-team" of senior executives begin with participants quietly absorbing the written word. Specifically, before any discussion begins, members of the team -- including Bezos -- consume six-page printed memos in total silence for as long as 30 minutes”
Bezos goes on to note that “Writing a memo is an even more important skill to master." Full sentences are harder to write," he says. "They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking."
Now when I learn of things like this, I understand why the success of a Jeff Bezos is no accident.
Remember, in addition to founding and leading one of the most successful technology companies of all times, Jeff Bezos also made arguably the greatest investment of all time.
The story is well-known but worth re-telling. In 1998 when Larry Page’s and Sergey Brin’s Google offices were a Menlo Park, California garage, Bezos invested $250,000 of personal funds into the fledgling startup.
When Google went public in 2004 that $250,000 investment translated into 3.3 million shares of Google stock. At Google’s IPO that represented a stock share position worth over $280 million.
While he doesn’t disclose how many of those shares he still holds, at the current price of Google stock they would represent an investment position worth over $2 billion dollars.
So, what is it about what makes Jeff Bezos tick that allows him to have such great success when so, so many others - with similar ambition and arguably even greater talent - fall by the wayside?
I recently finished a great book (bought on Amazon, of course) by Mark Helprin called "A Soldier of the Great War."
It is the amazing story of an Italian PhD student in aesthetics who was drafted into the Italian Army in World War I. In addition to being an unbelievable barnburner of a read and a tale of love and heroism and adventure, it is also the story of a young man trained as an "effete" intellectual struggling to come to grips / find wisdom from and peace with the horrors of war.
The story ends with our hero - Alesandro Giuliani - as an old man looking back on his life of books, of art, of family, of adventure, and of war and loss.
In the end it is the intersection of these two - of his great intellectual journeys tempered into character and resolve via the various "mortifications of the flesh" of his life - hard work, self-sacrificing, courageous deeds and words, and the willingness to push himself to the limits of one's endurance.
Now before we talk about business, do let us take a moment to both honor the sacrifices and to mourn the uncountable, wasted human potential through the ages caused by the scourges of war, by corrupt governments, by un-free structures.
And, correspondingly, let us stand in gratitude and in awe for the power of these qualities unleashed to make our world a so better place.
This coupling of intellectualism, ideas and analysis with a life of action, battle, and victory that the great entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos possess in spades.
And from this coupling flows - in life, business, and investing - the genius, power and magic of a Jeff Bezos.